Skip to main content

Full text of "The Revolt Of The Masses - José Ortega y Gasset (1932)"

See other formats

The Revolt of the Masses 





W ■ W ■ NORTON & COMPANY INC - New York 


Or 85r.3 

00 ^ 

w / 

The Spanish original^ “La Rebelidn de las Masas,* *was 

published in 1930 

This translation authorised by Sr. Ortega y Gj^e, remains 
anonymous at the translator's request 

Copyright © 1932 by W. W. Norton & Company , Inc. 

25th Anniversary Edition > ipy? 






























Prefatory Note 

In my book Espana Invent brada^ published in 19 11 i in 
an arricle in El Sot entitled "Masas 1 ’ (19^6}, and in two 
lectures given to the Association of Friends of Art in 
Buenos Aires (1928), I have treated the subject devel- 
oped in the present essay. My purpose now is to collect 
and complete what I have already said, so as to produce 
an organic doctrine concerning the most important fact 
of our time. 


The Revolt of the Masses 


The Coming of the Masses 

There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, b of 
utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the 
present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses 
to complete social power. As the masses^ by definition, 
neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, 
and still less rule society in general, this fact means that 
actually Europe is suffering from the greatest crisis that 
can afflict peoples, nations, and civilisation* Such a crisis 
has occurred more than once in history* Its characteristics 
and its consequences are well known. So also is its name. It 
is called the rebellion of the masses. In order to understand 
tills formidable fact, it is important from the start to avoid 
giving to the words “rebellion,” “masses,” and “social 
power” a meaning exclusively or primarily political. Pub- 
lic life is not solely political, but equally, and even pri- 
marily, intellectual, morale economic, religious; it com- 
prises all our collective habits, including our fashions both 
of dress and of amusement. 

Perhaps the best line of approach to this historical phe- 
nomenon may be found by turning our attention to a 
visual experience, stressing one aspect of our epoch w^hieh 
is plain to our very eyes. This fact is quite simple to enun- 
ciate, though not so to analyse. I shall call it the fact of 
agglomeration, of “plenitude.” Towns are full of people, 
houses full of tenants, hotels full of guests, trains full of 
travellers, cafes full of customers, parks full of prome- 
nadexs, consulting-rooms of famous doctors full of pa- 




dents, theatres full of spectators, and beaches full of 
bathers. What previously was, in general, no problem, 
now begins to be an everyday one, namely, to find room. 

That is all. Can there be any fact simpler, more patent, 
more constant in actual life? Let us now pierce the plain 
surface of this observation and we shall be surprised to 
see how there wells forth an unexpected spring in which 
the white light of day, of our actual day, is broken up 
into its rich chromatic content. What is it that we see, 
and the sight of which causes us so much surprise? We 
see the multitude, as such, in possession of the places and 
the instruments created by civilisation. The slightest re- 
flection wall then make us surprised at our own surprise. 
What about it? Is this not the ideal state of things? The 
theatre has seats to be occupied — in other words, so that 
the house may be full— and now they are overflowings 
people anxious to use them are left standing outside. 
Though the fact be quite logical and natural, we cannot 
but recognise that this did not happen before and that 
now it does; consequently, there has been a change, an 
innovation, which justifies, at least for the first moment, 
our surprise. 

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. 
This is the sport, the luxury, special to the intellectual 
man. The gesture characteristic of his tribe consists in 
looking at the world with eyes wide open in wonder. 
Everything in the world is strange and marvellous to 
well-open eyes. This faculty of wonder is the delight 
refused to your football ‘‘fan,” and, on the other hand, 
is the one which leads the intellectual man through life 
in the perpetual ecstasy of the visionary. His special at- 
tribute is the wonder of the eyes. Hence it was that the 
ancients gave Minerva her owl, the bird with ever-dazzled 

Agglomeration, fullness, was not frequent before. Why 


then is it now? The components of the multitudes around 
us have not sprung from nothing. Approximately the 
same number of people existed fifteen years ago. Indeed, 
after the war it might seem natural that their number 
should be less. Nevertheless, it is here we come up against 
the first important point. The individuals who made up 
these multitudes existed, but not qua multitude. Scattered 
about the world in small groups, or solitary, they lived a 
life, to all appearances, divergent, dissociate, apart. Each 
individual or small group occupied a place, its own, in 
country, village, town, or quarter of the great city. Now, 
suddenly, they appear as an agglomeration, and looking 
in any direction our eyes meet with the multitudes. Not 
only in any direction, but precisely in the best places, the 
relatively refined creation of human culture, previously 
reserved to lesser groups, in a word, to minorities. The 
multitude has suddenly become visible, installing itself 
in the preferential positions in society. Before, if it existed, 
it passed unnoticed, occupying the background of the 
social stage; now it has advanced to the footlights and is 
the principal character. There are no longer protagonists; 
there is only the chorus* 

I he concept of the multitude b quantitative and visual. 
Without changing its nature, let us translate it into terms 
of sociology. We then meet with the notion of the “social 
mass/* Society is always a dynamic unity of tw r o com- 
ponent factors: minorities and masses. The minorities 
are individuals or groups of individuals which are specially 
qualified. The mass is the assemblage of persons not spe- 
cially qualified. By masses, then, is not to be under- 
stood, solely or mainly, “the working masses.” The mass 
is the average man. In this way what was mere quantity — 
the multitude — is converted into a qualitative determina- 
tion: it becomes the common social quality, man as un- 
differentiated from other men, but as repeating in himself 

f4 the revolt of the masses 

a generic type, Whae have we gained by this conversion 
of quantity into quality? Simply this: by means of the 
latter we understand the genesis of the former. It is evi- 
dent to the verge of platitude that the normal formation 
of a multitude implies the coincidence of desires, ideas, 
ways of life, in the individuals w T ho constitute it. It will 
be objected that this is just what happens with every social 
group, however select it may strive to be. This is true; 
but there is an essential difference. In those groups which 
are characterised by not being multitude and mass, the 
effective coincidence of its members is based on some 
desire, idea, or ideal, which of itself excludes the great 
number. To form a minority, of whatever kind, it is neces- 
sary beforehand that each member separate himself from 
the multitude for special , relatively personal, reasons. 
Their coincidence with the others who form the minority 
is* then* secondary, posterior to their having each adopted 
an attitude of singularity, and is consequently, to a large 
extent, a coincidence in not coinciding. There are cases 
in which this singuiarising character of the group appears 
in the light of day: those English groups, which style 
themselves “nonconformists,” where we have the group- 
ing together of those who agree only in their disagree- 
ment in regard to the limitless multitude. This coming to- 
gether of the minority precisely in order to separate them- 
selves from the majority is a necessary ingredient in the 
formation of every minority. Speaking of the limited pub- 
lic which listened to a musician of refinement, Mallarme 
wittily says that this public by its presence in small num- 
bers stressed the absence of the multitude. 

Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can 
be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in 
mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can 
decide whether he is “mass ' 1 or not. The mass is aU that 
which sets no value on itself — good or ill — based on spe- 


cific grounds, but which feels itself “just like everybody,” 
and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite 
happy to feel itself as one with everybody else. Imagine 
a humble-minded man who, having tried to estimate his 
own worth on specific grounds — asking himself if he has 
any talent for this or that, if he excels in any direction— 
realises that he possesses no quality of excellence. Such a 
man wil feel that he is mediocre and commonplace, ill- 
gifted, but will not feel himself ‘"mass.” 

When one speaks of “select minorities” it is usual for 
the evil-minded to twist the sense of this expression, pre- 
tending to be unaware that the select man is not the petu- 
lant person who thinks himself superior to the rest, but 
the man who demands more of himself than the rest, even 
though he may not fulfil in his person those higher exi- 
gencies. For there is no doubt that the most radical di- 
vision that it is possible to make of humanity is that which 
splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make 
great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and 
duties; and those w T ho demand nothing special of them- 
selves, but for w T hom to live is to be every moment what 
they already are, without imposing on themselves any 
effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the 
waves. This reminds me that orthodox Buddhism is com- 
posed of two distinct religions: one, more rigorous and 
difficult, the other easier and more trivial: the Mahayana 
— “great vehicle” or “great path” — and the Hinayana— 
'‘lesser vehicle” or “lesser path.” The decisive matter is 
whether we attach our life to one or the other vehicle, 
to a maximum or a minimum of demands upon ourselves. 

The division of society into masses and select minorities 
is, then, not a division into social classes, but into classes 
of men, and cannot coincide with the hierarchic separa- 
tion of “upper” and “lower” classes. It is, of course, 
plain that in these “upper” classes, when and as long as 


they really are so, there is much more likelihood of find- 
ing men who adopt the “great vehicle/’ whereas the 
“lower” classes normally comprise individuals of minus 
quality. But, strictly speaking, within both these social 
classes, there are to be found mass and genuine minority. 
As we shall see, a characteristic of our times is the pre- 
dominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the 
mass and the vulgar. Thus, in the intellectual life, which 
of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one 
can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellec- 
tual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental 
texture, disqualified. Similarly, in the surviving groups of 
the “nobility,” male and female, On the other hand, it is 
not rare to find to-day amongst working men, who before 
might be taken as the best example of what we are calling 
“mass/’ nobly disciplined minds* 

There exist, then, in society, operations, activities, and 
functions of the most diverse order, which are of their 
very nature special, and which consequently cannot be 
properly carried out without special gifts. For example: 
certain pleasures of an artistic and refined character, or 
again the functions of government and of political judg- 
ment in public affairs. Previously these special activities 
were exercised by qualified minorities, or at least by those 
w r ho claimed such qualification. The mass asserted no 
right to intervene in them; they realised that if they 
wished to intervene they would necessarily have to ac- 
quire those special qualities and cease being mere mass. 
They recognised their place in a healthy dynamic social 

If we now revert to the facts indicated at the start, 
they will appear clearly as the heralds of a changed 
attitude in the mass. They all indicate that the mass has 
decided to advance to the foreground of social life, to 
occupy the places, to use the instruments and to enjoy 


l 7 

the pleasures hitherto reserved to the few % ft is evident, 
for example, tha t the places were never intended for the 
multitude, for their dimensions are too limited, and the 
crowd is continuously overflowing; thns manifesting to 
Our eyes and in tfie clearest manner the new phenomenon: 
the mass, without ceasing to l>e mass, is supplanting the 

No one, I believe, will regret that people are to-day 
enjoying themselves in greater measure and numbers than 
before, since they have now both the desire and the means 
of satisfying it, 1'he evil lies in the fact that this decision 
taken by the masses to assume the activities proper to the 
minorities is not, and cannot be, manifested solely in the 
domain of pleasure, but that it is a general feature of our 
time. Thus — to anticipate what we shall see later — 1 be- 
lieve that the political Innovations of recent times signify 
frothing than the political domination of the masfes. 
The old democracy Was temp ere d by a generous dose*of 
liberalism and of enthusiasm for law. By serving these 
principles the individual bound himself to maintain a 
severe discipline over himself. Under the shelter of liberal 
principles and the rule of law, minorities could live and 
act. Democracy and law — life in common under the law 
— w'ere synonymous. To-day we are witnessing the tri- 
umphs of a hyper democracy in which the mass acts di- 
rectly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its 
desires by means of material pressure, It is a false inter- 
pretation of the new situation to say that the mass has 
grown tired of politics and handed over the exercise of 
it to specialised persons. Quite the connary. fhat was 
what happened previously; that was democracy. The mass 
took it for granted that after all, in spite of their defects 
and weaknesses, the minorities understood a little more 
of public problems than it did itself. Now, on the other 
hand, the mass believes that it has the right to impose and 


to give force of law to notions born in the caf£* I doubt 
whether there have been other periods of history in which 
the multitude has come to govern more directly than in 
our own. That is why I speak of hyper democracy. — 
The same thing is happening in other orders, particu- 
larly in the intellectual I may be mistaken, but the present- 
day writer, when he takes Ills pen in hand to treat a 
subject w'hich he has studied deeply, has to bear in mind 
that the average reader, who has never concerned him- 
self with this subject, if he reads does so with the view, 
not of learning something from the writer, but rather, 
of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agree- 
ment with the commonplaces that the said reader carries 
in his head. If the individuals who make up the mass be- 
lieved themselves specially qualified, it would be a case 
merely of personal error, not a sociological subversion. 
The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace 
mind , knowing itself to be commonplace , has the assur- 
ance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to 
impose them wherever it with As they say in the United 
States; u to be different is to be indecent,” The mass 
crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything 
that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody 
who is not like everybody, who does not think like every- 
body, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, 
of course, that this “everybody” is not '"everybody.” 
“Everybody” was normally the complex unity of the 
mass and the divergent, specialised minorities. Nowadays, 
“everybody” is the mass alone. Here u r e have the formida- 
ble fact of our times, described without any concealment 
of die brutality of its features* 


The Rise of the Historic 

Such, then, is the formidable fact of our times, described 
without any concealment of the brutality of its features. 
It is, furthermore, entirely new in the history of our 
modern civilisation. Never, in the course of its develop- 
ment, has anything similar happened. If we wish to find 
its like we shall have to take a leap outside our modern 
history and immerse ourselves in a world, a vital element, 
entirely different from our own; we shall have to pene- 
trate the ancient world till we reach the ho^ir of its 
decline. The history of the Roman Empire is also the 
history of the uprising of the Empire of the Masses, 
who absorb and annul the directing minorities and put 
themselves in their place* Then, also, is produced the 
phenomenon of agglomeration, of “the full.” For that 
reason, as Spengler has very well observed, it was neces- L 
sary, just as in our day, to construct enormous buildings. 
The epoch of the masses is the epoch of the colossal, 1 We 
are living, then, under the brutal empire of the masses, 
just so; I have now twice called this empire “brutal,” and 
have thus paid my tribute to the god of the commonplace. 
Now, ticket in hand, I can cheerfully enter into my sub- 

'The tragic thing about this process is that while these agglomera- 
tions were in formation there was beginning that depopulation 
of the countryside which was to result in an absolute decrease of 
the number of Inhabitants in the Empire. 




ject, see the show from inside. Or perhaps it was thought 
that 1 was going to be satisfied with that description, 
possibly exact, but quite external ; the mere features, the 
aspect under w r hich this tremendous fact presents itself 
when looked at from the view-point of the past? If I 
w r ere to leave the matter here and strangle off my present 
essay without more ado, the reader w T ould be left think- 
ing, and quite justly, that this fabulous uprising of the 
masses above the surface of history inspired me merely 
with a few petulant, disdainful wmrds, a certain amount 
of hatred and a certain amount of disgust, This all the 
more in my case, w hen it is well known that I uphold a 
radically aristocratic interpretation of history. Radically, 
because ! have never said that human society ought to be 
aristocratic, but a great deal more than that. What 1 have 
said, and still believe with ever-increasing conviction, is 
that human society is always, whether it will or no, aris- 
tocratic by its very essence, to the extreme that it is a 
society in the measure that it is aristocratic, and ceases 
to be such when it ceases to be aristocratic. Of course I 
am spealdng now of society and not of the State. No one 
can imagine that, in the face of this fabulous seething of 
the masses, it is the aristocratic attitude to be satisfied 
with making a supercilious grimace, like a fine gentleman 
of Versailles. Vers ail les—the Versailles of the grimaces — 
does not represent aristocracy; quite the contrary, it is 
the death and dissolution of a magnificent aristocracy. 
For this reason, the only clement of aristocracy left in 
such beings was the dignified grace with which their 
necks received the attentions of the guillotine- they ac- 
cepted it as the tumour accepts the lancet. No; for any- 
one who has a sense of the real mission of aristocracies, 
the spectacle of the mass incites and enflames him T as the 
sight of virgin marble does the sculptor. Social aristocracy 
has no resemblance whatever to that tiny group w r hich 



claims for itself alone the name of society, which calls 
itself 4 ‘Society* 1 ; people who live by inviting; or not invit- 
ing one another. Since everything in the world has its 
virtue and its mission, so within the vast w T orld this small 
“smart world 11 has its own, but it is a very subordinate 
mission, not to be compared with the herculean task of 
genuine aristocracies. I should have no objection to dis- 
cussing the meaning that lies in this smart world, to all 
appearance so meaningless, but our subject is now one of 
greater proportions. Of course, this self-same “distin- 
guished society" goes with the times. Much food for 
thought was given me by a certain jeune fills en ficur, full 
of youth and modernity, a star of the first magnitude in 
the firmament of “smart” Madrid, when she said to me: 

“I can’t stand a dance to w hich less than eight hundred 
people have been invited.” Behind this phrase I perceived 
that the style of the masses is triumphant over the whole 
area of modern life, and imposes itself even in those 
sheltered corners which seemed reserved for the “happy 

I reject equally, then, the interpretation of our times 
which does not lay clear the positive meaning hidden 
under the actual rule of the masses and that which accepts 
it blissfully, without a shudder of horror. Every destiny^. 
ts dramatic, tragic in its deepest meaning. Whoever has 
not felt the danger of our times palpitating under his 
hand, has not really penetrated to the vitals of destiny, 
he has merely pricked its surface. The element of terror 
in the destiny of our time is furnished by the overwhelm- 
ing and violent moral upheaval of the masses; imposing, 
invincible, and treacherous, as is destiny In every case. 
Whither is it leading us? Is it an absolute evil or a pos- 
sible good? There it is, colossal, astride our times like a 
giant, a cosmic note of interrogation, always of uncer- 
tain shape, with something in it of the guillotine or the 



gallows, but also with something that strives to round 
itself into a triumphal arch. 

The fact that we must submit to examination may be 
formulated under two headings: first, the masses are to- 
day exercising functions in social life which coincide with 
those which hitherto seemed reserved to minorities; and 
secondly, these masses have at the same time shown them- 
selves indocile to the minorities— they do not obey them, 
follow them, or respect them; on the contrary, they push 
them aside and supplant them. 

Let us analyse w hat comes under the first heading* By 
it I mean that the masses enjoy the pleasures and use the 
instruments invented by tine select groups, and hitherto 
exclusively at the service of the latter. They feel appetites 
and needs which were previously looked upon as refine- 
ments, inasmuch as they w r ere the patrimony of the few. 
Take a trivial example: m 1820 there cannot have been 
ten bathrooms in private houses in Paris (see the Memoirs 
of the Comtesse de Boigrie). But furthermore, the masses 
to-day are acquainted w'ith, and use with relative skill, 
many of the technical accomplishments previously con- 
fined to specialised individuals. And this refers not only 
to the technique of material objects, but, more impor- 
tant, to that of laws and society. In the XVIIlth Century, 
certain minority groups discovered that(every human be- 
ing, by the mere fact of birth, and without requiring an y 

Ion wh atsoever, possessed certain funda- 

L ights, the so-called rights of the man and 

the citizen; and further that, strictly spe along, these rights, 
common to all, are the only ones that exist Jl 
Every other right attached to special gifts was con- 
demned as being a privilege. This was at first a mere 
theory, the idea of a few men; then those few began to 
put the idea into practice, to impose it and insist upon it 
Nevertheless, during the whole of the XIXth Century, 



the mass, while gradually becoming enthusiastic for those 
rights as an ideal, did not feel them as rights, did not 
exercise them or attempt to make them prevail, but, in 
fact, under democratic legislation, continued to fed it- 
self just as under the old regime* The “peoplc T '—as it was 
then called— the “people” had learned that it was sov- 
ereign, but did not believe it. To-day the ideal has been 
changed into a reality; not only in legislation, which is 
the mere framework of public life, but in the heart of 
every individual, whatever his ideas may be, and even 
if he be a reactionary in his ideas, that is to say t even vohen 
he attacks and castigates institutions by 'which those 
rights are sanctioned + To my mind, anyone who does not 
realise this curious moral situation of the masses can un- 
derstand nothing of what is to-day beginning to happen 
in the world. The sovereignty of the unqualified indi- 1 
vidua!, of the human being as such, gcncncally, has now 
passed from being a juridical idea or ideal to be a psycho- 
logical state inherent in the average man. And note this, 
that w^hen what w^as before an ideal becomes a component 
part of reality* it inevitably ceases to be an ideal. The 
prestige and the magic that are attributes of the ideal are 
volatilised. The levelling demands of a generous demo- 
cratic inspiration have been changed from aspirations and 
ideals into appetites and unconscious assumptions* 

\ Now, the meaning of this proclamation of the rights 
of man was none other than to lift human souls from 
their interior servitude and to implant w'ithin them a cer- 
tain consciousness of mastery and dignity.jWas it not this 
that it was hoped to do, namely, that the average man 
should feel himself master, lord, and ruler of himself and 
of his life? Well, that is now accomplished. Why, then, 
these complaints of the liberals, the democrats, the pro- 
gressives of thirty years ago? Or is it that, like children, 
they want something, but not the consequences of that 


something? You want the ordinary man to be master. 
Well* do not be surprised if he acts for himself, if he 
demands all forms of enjoyment, if he firmly asserts his 
will, if he refuses all kinds of service, if he ceases to be 
docile to anyone, if he considers his own person and his 
own leisure, if he is careful as to dress: these are some of 
the attributes permanently attached to the consciousness 
of mastership. To-day we find them taking up their abode 
in the ordinary man, in the mass. 

The situation, then, is this: the life of the ordinary 
man is to-day made up of the same “vital repertory” 
which before characterised only the superior minorities. 
Now the average man represents the field over w hich the 
history of each period acts; he is to history wffiat sea- level 
is to geography. If, therefore, to-day the mean-level lies 
at a point previously only reached by aristocracies, the 
signification of this is simply that the level of history has 
suddenly risen— after long subterraneous preparations, ir 
is true — but now quite plainly to the eyes, suddenly, at a 
bound, in one generation. Human life taken as a whole 
has mounted higher. The soldier of to-day, we might say, 
has a good deal of the officer; the human army is now 
made up of officers. Enough to watch the energy, the de- 
termination, the ease with which each individual moves 
through life to-day, snatches at the passing pleasure, im- 
poses his personal will 

Everything that is good and bad in the present and in 
the immediate future has its cause and root in the general 
rise of the historic level. But here an observation that had 
not previously occurred to us presents itself, T his fact, 
that the ordinary level of life to-day is that of the former 
minorities, is a new fact in Europe, but in America the 
natural, the “constitutional” fact. To realise my point, 
let the reader consider the matter of consciousness of 
equality before the law. That psychological state of feel- 


ing lord and master of oneself and equal to anybody else, 
which in Europe only outstanding groups succeeded in 
acquiring, was in America since the XVllIth Century 
{and therefore, practically speaking, always) the natural 
state of things, And a further coincidence, still more curi- 
ous, is this: when this psychological condition of the or- 
dinary man appeared in Europe, when the level of his 
existence rose, the tone and manners of European life in 
all orders suddenly took on a new appearance which 
caused many people to say: “Europe is becoming Ameri- 
canised,'* Those who spoke in tills way gave no further 
attention to the matter ; they thought it was a question 
of a slight change of custom, a fashion, and, deceived 
by the look of things, attributed it to some influence or 
other of America on Europe. Tins, to my mind, is simply 
to trivialise a question which is much more subtle and 
pregnant with surprises. Gallantry here makes an attempt 
to suborn me into telling our brothers beyond the sea 
that, in fact, Europe has become Americanised, and that 
this is due to an influence of America on Europe. But no; 
truth comes into conflict with gallantry, and it must pre- 
vail. Europe has not been Americanised; it has received 
no great influence from America. Possibly both these 
things arc beginning to happen just now; but they did not 
occur in the recent part of which the present is the flower- 
ing. There is floating around a bewildering mass of false 
ideas which blind the vision of both parties, Americans 
and Europeans. The triumph of the masses and the con- 
sequent magnificent uprising of the vital level have come 
about in Europe for internal reasons, after two centuries 
of education of the multitude towards progress and a 
parallel economic improvement in society. But it so hap- 
pens that the result coincides with the most marked as- 
pect of American life; and on account of this coincidence 
of the moral situation of the ordinary man in Europe and 



in America, it has come about that for the first time the 
European understands American life which was to him 
before an enigma and a mystery. There is no question, 
then, of an influence, which indeed would be a little 
strange, w r ould be, in fact, a “refiuence, TT but of something 
which is still less suspected, namely, of a levelling. It has 
alw'ays been obscurely seen by Europeans that the general 
level of life in America was higher than in the Old World. 
It was the intuition, strongly felt, if unanalysed, of this 
fact which gave rise to the idea, always accepted, never 
challenged, that the future lies with America. It will be 
understood that such an idea, widespread and deep-rooted, 
did not float down on the wind, as it is said that orchids 
grow rootless in the air. The basis of it was the realisa- 
tion of a higher level of average existence in America, in 
contrast with a lower level in the select minorities there 
as compared with those of Europe.^ut history, like agri- 
culture, draws its nourishment from the valleys and not 
from the heights, from rhe average social level and not 
from men of eminence.^ 

We are living in a levelling period; there is a levelling 
of fortunes, of culture among the various social classes, 
of the sexes. Well, in the same way there is a levelling of 
continents, and as the European was formerly lower from 
a vital point of view, he has come out the gainer from 
this levelling. Consequently, from this standpoint, the up- 
rising of the masses implies a fabulous increase of vital 
possibilities, quite the contrary of what we hear so often 
about the decadence of Europe. This is a confused and 
clumsy expression, in which it is not clear what is being 
referred to, whether it is the European states, or Euro- 
pean culture, or what lies underneath all this, and is of 
infinitely greater importance, the vital activity of Eu- 

Of European states and culture we shall have a word 




to say later on — though perhaps what we have already 
said is enough — but as regards the vitality* it is well to 
make dear from the start that we are in the presence of 
a gross error* Perhaps if I give it another turn* my state- 
ment may appear more convincing or less improbable; I 
say, then* that to-day the average Italian* Spaniard* or 
German is less differentiated in vital tone from the North 
American or the Argentine than he was thirty years ago* 
And this is a fact that the people of America ought not 
to forget* 


The Height of the Times 

The rule of the masses, then, presents a favourable as- 
pect, inasmuch as it signifies an all-round rise in the his- 
torical level, and reveals that average existence to-day 
moves on a higher altitude than that of yesterday* This 
brings home to us the fact that life can have different 
altitudes, and that there is a deep sense in the phrase that 
is often senselessly repeated when people speak of the 
height of our times. It will be well to pause and consider 
here, because this point offers ns a means of establishing 
one of the most surprising characteristics of our age. 

It is said, for example, that tliis or that matter is not 
worthy of the height of a certain time. And, in fact, not 
the abstract rime of chronology, of the whole temporal 
plain, but the vital time, what each generation calls “our 
time / 7 has always a certain elevation; is higher to-day 
than yesterday, or keeps on the level, or falls below it, 
i he idea of falling contained in the word decadence has 
its origin in this intuition. Likewise, each individual feels, 
with more or less clearness, the relation which his own life 
bears to the height of the time through w hich he is pass- 
ing. There are those who feel amid the manifestations of 
actual existence like a shipwrecked man who cannot keep 
his head above water* The tempo at which things move 
at present, the force and energy with which everything 
is done, cause anguish to the man of archaic mould, and 
this anguish is the measure of the difference between his 
pulse-beats and the i mlse- beats of the time. On the other 


the height of the times 29 

hand, the man who lives completely and plcasurahly in 
agreement with actual modes is conscious of the relation 
between the level of our time and that of various past 
times. What is this relation? 

It would be wrong to suppose that the man of any 
particular period always looks upon past times as below 
the level of his own, simply because they are past. It is 
enough to recall that to the seeming of Jorge M antique, 
“Any time gone by was better/ 5 But this is not the truth 
either. Not every age has left itself inferior to any past 
age, nor have all believed themselves superior to every 
preceding age. Every historical period displays a differ- 
ent feeling in respect of this strange phenomenon of the 
vital altitude, and I am surprised that thinkers and his- 
torians have never taken note of such an evident and 
important fact. Taken very roughly, the impression de- 
scribed by Jorge Manrique has certainly been the most 
general one. The majority of historical periods did not 
look upon their own time as superior to preceding ages. 
On the contrary, the most usual thing has been for men 
to dream of better times in a vague past, of a fuller exist- 
ence; of a “golden age,” as those taught by Greece and 
Rome have it; the Alcheringa of the Australian bushmen. 
This indicates that such men feel the pulse of their own 
lives lacking in full vigour, incapable of completely flood- 
ing their blood channels. For this reason they looked 
with respect on the past, on “classic 5 ' epochs, when ex- 
istence seemed to them fuller, richer, more perfect and 
strenuous than the life of their own time. As they looked 
back and visualized those epochs of greater worth, they 
had the feeling, not of dominating them, but, on the con- 
trary, of falling below them, just as a degree of tempera- 
ture, if it possessed consciousness, might feel that it does 
not contain within itself the higher degree, that there are 
more calories in this than in itself. From a.d. 150 on, this 


3 ° 

impression of a shrinking of vitality, of a falling from 
position, of decay and loss of pulse shows itself increas- 
ingly in the Roman Empire. Had not Horace already 
sung: “Our fathers, viler than our grandfathers, begot 
us ’who are even viler, and we shall bring forth a progeny 
more degenerate still”? 1 

Two centuries later there were not in the whole Em- 
pire sufficient men of Italian birth with courage equal 
to filling the places of the centurions, and it was found 
necessary to hire for this post first Dalmatians, and after- 
wards Barbarians from the Danube and the Rhine. In the 
meantime the women were becoming barren, and Italy 
was depopulated. 

Let us now turn to another kind of epoch which en- 
joys a vital sentiment, seemingly the most opposed to the 
last. We have here a very curious phenomenon tvhich it 
is most important should be defined. When not more 
than thirty years ago politicians used to perorate before 
the crowds, it was their custom to condemn such and 
such a Government measure, some excess or other on its 
part, by saying that it was unworthy of the advanced 
times. It is curious to recall that we find the same phrase 
employed by Trajan in his famous letter to Pliny, advis- 
ing him not to persecute the Christians on the strength of 
anonymous accusations: nec nostri saeculi est * There have 
been, then, various periods in history which have felt 
themselves as having attained a full, definitive height, 
periods in which it is thought that the end of a journey 
has been reached, a long-felt desire obtained, a hope com- 
pletely fulfilled. This is “the plenitude of the time,” the 
full ripening of historic life. And, in fact, thirty years 

3 Aetas paj-entum pejor avis tulit 
nos nequiores, mox damros 
progemem vitiosiorem. 

Gdtff, III. d. 


3 1 

ago, the European believed that human life had come to 
be what it ought to be, what for generations previous it 
had been desiring to be, what it was henceforward always 
bound to be. These epochs of plenitude always regard 
themselves as the result of many other preparatory peri- 
ods, of other times lacking in plenitude, inferior to their 
own, above which this time of full-flower has risen. Seen 
from this height, those preparatory periods give the im- 
pression that during them life was an affair of mere long- 
ing and illusion unrealised, of unsatisfied desire, of eager 
precursors, a time of “not yet,” of painful contrast be- 
tween the definite aspiration and the reality which does 
not correspond to it. Thus the XIXth Century looks upon 
the Middle Ages. At length, the day arrives on which that 
old, sometimes agelong, desire seems to be fully attained, 
reality accepts it and submits to it. We have arrived at 
the heights we had in view, the goal to which we had 
looked forward, the summit of time. To “not yet” has 
succeeded “at last.” 

This was the feeling with regard to their own time 
held by our fathers and all their century. Let it not be 
forgotten; our time is a time which follows on a period 
of plenitude. Hence it is that, inevitably, the man living 
on the other bank, the man of that plenary epoch just past, 
who sees everything from his own view -point, will suffer 
from the optical illusion of regarding our age as a fall 
from plenitude, as a decadent period, But the lifelong 
student of history, the practised feeler of the pulse of 
times, cannot allow himself to be deceived by this system 
of optics based on imaginary periods of plenitude. As I 
have said, for such a “plenitude of time” to exist, it is 
necessary that a long-felt desire, dragging its anxious, 
eager way through centuries, is at last one day satisfied, 
and in fact these plenary periods are times which are self- 
satisfied; occasionally, as in the XIXth Century, more 


than satisfied with themselves/ But we are now begin- 
ning to realise that these centuries, so self-satisfied, so per- 
fectly rounded-off, are dead within) Genuine vital integ- 
rity dues not consist in satisfaction, in attainment , in 
arrival. As Cervantes said long since: he road is always 

better than the inn/’ When a period has satisfied its de- 
sires, its ideal, this means that it desires nothing more; that 
the wells of desire have been dried up. That is to say, our 
famous plenitude is in reality a coming to an end. There 
are centuries which die of self-satisfaction through not 
knowing how to renew their desires, just as the happy 
drone dies after the nuptial flight . 2 

Hence we have the astonishing fact that these epochs 
of so-called plenitude have always felt in the depths of 
their consciousness a special form of sadness. The desires 
so long in conception, which the XIXth Century seems 
at last to realise, is what it named for itself in a word as 
“modem culture. 1 ' The very name is a disturbing one; 
this rime calls itself "modern , 17 that is to say, final, defin- 
itive, in whose presence all the rest is mere preterite, 
humble preparation and aspiration towards this present. 
Nerveless arrows which miss their mark! * 

1 Tn the moulds for the coinage of Hadrian, we read phrases such 
as these: It a ha Felix , Saectthtm trnreum, Tellus nubilita, Temporvm 
f elicit as* Besides the great work on numismatics of Cohen, see the 
coins reproduced in Rostowzeff, Social and Economic History of 
the Rmnan Empire, 7916, Plate LII, and p* 588, note d. 

3 The wonderful pages of Hegel on periods of self-satisfaction in 
his Philosophy of History should be read. 

* The primary meaning of the words “mod em f ’ ' "modernity/ with 
which recent times have baptised themselves, brings out very 
sharply that feeling of “the height of time” which I am at present 
analysing. “Modem” is what is “in the fashion,” that is to say, the 
new fashion or modification which has arisen over against the old 
traditional fashions used in the past. The word “modem” then ex- 
presses a consciousness of a new life, superior to the old one, and 
at the same time an imperative call to be at the height of 0110*5 
time. For the “modem * 1 man, not to be “modern” means to fall 
below the historic level. 

the height of the times 


Do we not here touch upon the essential difference be- 
tween our time and that which has just passed away? Our 
time, In fact, no longer regards itself as definitive; on the 
contrary, it discovers, though obscurely, deep within 
itself an intuition that there are no such epochs, definitive, 
assured, crystallised for ever. Quite the reverse, the claim 
that a certain type of existence— the so-called “ modern 
culture” — is definitive seems to us an incredible narrow- 
ing down and shutting out of the field of vision. And as 
an effect of this feeling we enjoy a delightful impression 
of having escaped from a hermetically sealed enclosure, 
of having regained freedom, of coming out once again 
under the stars into the world of reality, the world of the 
profound, the terrible, the unforeseeable, the inexhaust- 
ible, where everything is possible, the best and the w T orst. 
That faith in modern culture was a gloomy one. It meant 
that to-morrow was to be in all essentials similar to to- 
day, that progress consisted merely in advancing, for all 
time to be, along a road identical to the one already un- 
der our feet. Such a road is rather a kind of elastic prison 
which stretches on without ever setting us free. When 
in the early stages of the Empire some cultured provincial 
—Lucan or Seneca — arrived in Rome, and saw the mag- 
nificent imperial buildings, symbols of an enduring pow er, 
he felt his heart contract within him. Nothing new could 
now happen in the world. Rome was eternal. And if 
there is a melancholy of ruins which rises above them 
like exhalations from stagnant waters, this sensitive pro- 
vincial felt a melancholy no less heavy, though of oppo- 
site sign: the melancholy of buildings meant for eternity. 

Over against this emotional state, is it not clear that 
the feelings of our time are more like the noisy joy of 
children let loose from school? Now adays we no longer 
know what is going to happen to-morrow in our world, 
and this causes us a secret joy; because that very impos- 


sibility of foresight, that horizon ever open to all con- 
tingencies, constitute authentic life, the true fullness of 
our existence. This diagnosis, the other aspect of which, 
it is true, is lacking, stands in contrast to the plaints of 
decadence which wail forth in the pages of so many 
contemporary writers. We are in the presence of an 
optical illusion arising from a multiplicity of causes, I 
shall consider certain of these some other time; for the 
moment I wish to advance the most obvious one. It arises 
from the fact that, faithful to an ideology which I con- 
sider a thing of the past, only the political or cultural 
aspects of history are considered, and it is not realised 
that these are the mere surface of history; that in prefer- 
ence to, and deeper than, these, the reality of history 
lies in biological power, in pure vitality, in what there is 
in man of cosmic energy, nor identical with, but related 
to, the energy which agitates the sea, fecundates the beast, 
causes the tree to flower and the star to shine. 

As an offset to the diagnosis of pessimism, I recommend 
the following consideration. Decadence is, of course, a 
comparative concept. Decline is from a higher to a low er 
state. But this comparison may be made from the most 
varied points of view imaginable. To the manufacturer 
of amber mouthpieces this is a decadent world, for now- 
adays hardly anyone smokes from amber mouthpieces. 
Other view-points may be more dignified than this one, 
but strictly speaking none of them escapes being partial, 
arbitrary, external to that very life whose constituents we 
are attempting to assay. T here is only one view- point 
which is justifiable and natural; to take up one’s position 
in life itself, to look at it from the inside, and to see if it 
feels itself decadent, that is to say, diminished, weakened, 
insipid. But even when we look at it from the inside, 
how r can we know' whether life feels itself on the decline 
or not? To my mind there can he no doubt as to the 


35 ' 

decisive symptom: a life which does not give the pref- 
erence to any other life, of any previous period, which j 
therefore prefers its own existence, cannot in any seri- 
ous sense be called decadent* This is the point towards 
which all my discussion of the problem of the height of 
times was leading, and it turns out that it Is precisely our 
rime which in this matter enjoys a most strange sensation, 
unique, as far as T know, in recorded history. 

In the drawing-room gatherings of last century there 
inevitably arrived a moment when the ladies and their 
tame poets put this question, one to the other: “At what 
period of history would you like to have lived ?' 5 And 
straightaway each of them, malting a bundle of ^his own 
personal existence, started off on an imaginary tramp 
along the roads of history in search of a period into 
which that existence might most delightfully fit. And the 
reason was that, although feeling itself, because it felt 
itself, arrived at plenitude, the XIXth Century was still, 
in actual fact, bound to the past, on whose shoulders it 
thought it was standing; it saw itself actually as the cul- 
mination of that past. Hence it still believed in periods 
relatively classic — the age of Pericles, the Renaissance — 
during which the values that hold to-day were prepared. 
This should be enough to cause suspicion of these periods 
of plenitude; they have their faces turned backwards, 
their eyes are on the past which they consider fulfilled 
in themselves. 

And now, what w ould be the sincere reply of any rep- 
resentative man of to-day if such a question were put 
to him? I think there can be no doubt about it; any past 
time, without exception, would give him the feeling of 
a restricted space in which he could not breathe. That 
is to say, the man of to-day feels that his life is more a life 
than any past one, or, to put it the other way about, the 
entirety of past time seems small to actual humanity. This 


intuition as regards present-day existence renders null 
by its stark clarity any consideration about decadence 
that is not very cautiously thought out- i.o start with, 
our present life feels itself as ampler than all previous lives* 
How can it regard itself as decadent? Quite the contrary; 
what has happened Is, that through sheer regard of itself 
as “more” life, it has lost all respect, all consideration for 
the past. Hence for the first time we meet with a period 
which makes tabula rasa of all classicism, which recog- 
nises in nothing that is past any possible model or standard, 
and appearing as it does after so many centuries without 
any break in evolution, yet gives the impression of a com- 
mencement, a dawn, an initiation, an infancy. We look 
backwards and the famous Renaissance reveals itself as a 
period of narrow provincialism, of futile gestures— why 
not say the w'ord? — ordinary. 

Some time ago I summed up the situation in the fol- 
lowing w T ay: “This grave dissociation of past and present 
is the generic fact of our time and the cause of the sus- 
picion, more or less vague, which gives rise to the con- 
fusion characteristic of our present-day existence. We 
feel that we actual men have suddenly been left alone on 
the earth; that the dead did not die in appearance only 
but effectively; that they can no longer help us. Any re- 
mains of the traditional spirit have evaporated* Models, 
norms, standards are no use to us* We have to solve our 
problems without any active collaboration of the past, 
in full actuality, be they problems of art, science, or poli- 
tics* The European stands alone, w ithout any living ghosts 
by his side; like Peter Schlehnul he has lost his shadow* 
This is what always happens when midday comes/ 1 1 

What, then, in a w^ord is the "height of our times”? 
It is not the fullness of time, and yet it feels itself superior 
to all times past, and beyond all known fullness. It is not 

1 The Dehumanisation of An. 


easy to formulate the impression that our epoch has of 
itself; it believes itself more than all the rest, and at the 
same time feels that it is a beginning. What expression 
shall we find for it? Perhaps this one: superior to other 
times, inferior to itself. Strong, indeed, and at the same 
time uncertain of its destiny; proud of its strength and at 
the same time fearing it. 


The Increase of Life 

The rule of the masses and the raising of the level, the 
height of the time which this indicates, are in their turn 
only symptoms of a more complete and more general 
fact. This fact is almost grotesque and incredible in its 
stark and simple truth. It is just this, that the world has 
suddenly grown larger, and with it and in it, life itself. To 
start with, life has become, in actual fact, world- wide 
in character; 1 mean that the content of existence for the 
average man of to-day includes the w T hole planet; that 
each individual habitually lives the life of the whole w^orld. 
Something more than a year ago the people of Seville 
could follow*, hour by hour, in the newspapers, what was 
happening to a few men near the North Pole; that is to 
say, that icebergs passed drifting against the burning back- 
ground of the Andalusian landscape. Each portion of the 
earth is no longer shut up in its own geometrical posi- 
tion, but for many of the purposes of human life acts 
upon other portions of the planet. In accordance with 
the physical principle that things are wherever their ef- 
fects are felt, we can attribute to-day to any point on the 
globe the most effective ubiquity. This nearness of the 
far-off, this presence of the absent, has extended in fabu- 
lous proportions the horizon of each individual existence. 

And the world has also increased from the view-point 
of time. Prehistory and archaeology have discovered his- 
torical periods of fantastic duration. Whole civilisations 
and empires of winch till recently not even the name was 



suspected, have been annexed to our knowledge like 
new continents. The illustrated paper and the film have 
brought these far-off portions of the universe before the 
immediate vision of the crowd. 

But tltis spatio-temporal increase of the world would of 
itself signify nothing. Physical space and time ate the ab- 
solutely stupid aspects of the universe* Hence, there is 
more reason than is generally allowed in that worship of 
mere speed which is at present being indulged in by our 
contemporaries. Speed, which is made up of space and 
time, is no less stupid than its constituents, but it serves to 
nullify them. One stupidity can only be overcome by an- 
other. It was a question of honour for man to triumph 
over cosmic space and time , 1 which are entirely devoid 
of meaning, and there is no reason for surprise at the 
fact that we get a childish pleasure out of the indulgence 
in mere speecf, by means of wdiich we kill space and 
strangle time. By annulling them, we give them life, we 
make them serve vital purposes, we can be in more places 
than we could before, enjoy more comings and goings, 
consume more cosmic time in less vital time. 

But after all, the really important increase of our w orld 
does not lie in its greater dimensions, but in its contain- 
ing many more things.,, Each of these things — the word is 
to be taken in its widest acceptation — is something which 
we can desire, attempt, do, undo, meet w T ith, enjoy or 
repel; all notions w^hich imply vital activities. Take any 
one of our ordinary activities; buying, for example. Imag- 
ine two men, one of the present day and one of the 
XVIIIth Century, possessed of equal fortunes relative 
to money-values in their respective periods, and compare 

1 It is precisely because man’s vital rime is limited, precisely be- 
cause he is mortal, that he needs to triumph over distance and 
delay. For an immortal being, die motor-car would have no mean- 



the stock of purchasable things offered to each. The dif- 
ference is almost fabulous. The range of possibilities 
opened out before the presemSday purchaser has become 
practically limitless. It is not easy to think of and wish 
for anything which is not to be found in the market* and 
vice versa, it is not possible for a man to think of and wish 
for everything that is actually offered for sale. I shall be 
told that with a fortune relatively equal* the man of to-day 
cannot buy more goods than the man of the XVUIth 
Century, This is not the case. Many more things can be 
bought to-day, because manufacture has cheapened all 
articles. But after all, even if it were the case, it would 
not concern my point, rather would it stress what I am 
trying to say. The purchasing activity ends in the de- 
cision to buy a certain object, but for that very reason it 
is previously an act of choice, and the choice begins by 
putting before oneself the possibilities offered by the 
market. Hence it follows that life, in its ^purchasing” as- 
pect* consists primarily in living over the possibilities of 
buying as such. When people talk of life they generally 
forget something which to me seems most essential* 
namely, that our existence is at every instant and pri’ 
marily the consciousness of what is possible to us. If at 
every moment we had before us no more than one pos- 
sibility, it would be meaningless to give it that name H 
Rather would it be a pure necessity. But there it is: this 
strangest of facts that a fundamental condition of our 
existence is that it always has before it various prospects, 
which by their variety acquire the character of possibili- 
ties among which we have to make our choice . 1 To say 
that we live is the same as saying that we find ourselves 

1 In the worst case, if the world seemed reduced to one single 
outlet there would still be two: either that or to leave the world. 
But leaving die world forms part of the world, as a door is pan 
of a room. 



in an atmosphere of definite possibilities- This atmosphere 
we generally call our "circumstances.” All life means find- 
ing oneself in "circumstances” or in the world around 
us . 1 For this is the fundamental meaning of the idea 
"world,” The world is the sum-total of our vital possibili- 
ties. It is not then something apart from and foreign to 
our existence, it is its actual periphery. It represents what 
it is within our power to be, our vital potentiality. This 
must be reduced to the concrete in order to be realised, 
or putting it another way, we become only a part of what 
it is possible for us to be. Hence it is that the world seems 
to us something enormous, and ourselves a tiny object 
within it. The world or our possible existence is always 
greater than our destiny or actual existence. But what I 
wanted to make clear just now was the extent to which 
the life of man has increased in the dimension of poten- 
tiality. It can now count on a range of possibilities fabu- 
lously greater than ever before. In the intellectual order 
it now finds more “paths of ideation,” more problems, 
more data, more sciences, more points of view. Whereas 
the number of occupations in primitive life can almost 
be counted on the fingers of one hand — shepherd, hunter, 
warrior, seer — the list of possible avocations to-day is im- 
measurably long. Something similar occurs in the matter 
of pleasures, although (and this is a phenomenon of more 
importance than it seems) the catalogue of pleasures is 
not so overflowing as in other aspects of life. Neverthe- 
less, for the man of the middle classes who lives In towns 
— and towns are representative of modern existence — the 
possibilities of enjoyment have increased, in the course 
of the present century, in fantastic proportion. But the 

1 See the prologue to my firet book, Meditzcumes del Quijote, 1916. 
In Lat Attentions I use the word “horizon ” Sec also the essay El 
origim deporthw del Estado y 192 6, now included in Voi. 7 of El 


increase of vital potentiality is not limited to what we 
have said up to this. It has also grown in a more imme- 
diate and mysterious direction. It is a constant and well- 
known fact that in physical effort connected with sport, 
performances are “put up” to-day which excel to an ex- 
traordinary degree those known in the past. It is not 
enough to wonder at each one in particular and to note 
that it beats the record, we must note the impression that 
their frequency leaves on the mind, convincing us that 
the human organism possesses in our days capacities su- 
perior to any it has previously had. For something similar 
happens in the case of science. In no more than a decade 
science has extended the cosmic horizon to an incredible 
degree. The physics of Einstein moves through spaces 
so vast, that the old physics of Newton seems by compari- 
son lodged in an attic , 1 And this extensive increase is due 
to an intensive increase in scientific precision, Einstein's 
physics arose through attention to minute differences 
which previously were despised and disregarded as seem- 
ing of no importance. The atom, yesterday the final limit 
of the world, turns our to-day to have swollen to such an 
extent that it becomes a planetary system. In speaking 
of all this I am not referring to its importance in the per- 
fecting of culture— that does not interest me for the mo- 
ment — but as regards the increase of subjective potency 
which it implies. I am not stressing the fact that the physics 
of Einstein is more exact than the physics of Newton, but 
that the man Einstein is capable of greater exactitude and 
liberty of spirit 2 than the man Newton; just as the box- 

1 The world of Newton was infinite; but this infinity was not a 
matter of size, but an empty generalisation* an abstract, inane 
Utopia. The world of Einstein is finite, bur full and concrete in 
all its parts, consequently a world richer in things and effectively 
of greater extent. 

'Liberty of spirit, that is to say, intellectual power, is measured 
by its capacity to dissociate ideas traditionally inseparable. It costs 


in g champion of to-day can give blows of greater “punch* 7 
than have ever been given before. Just as the cinemato- 
graph and the illustrated journals place before the eyes of 
the average man the remotest spots on the planet; news- 
papers and conversations supply him with accounts of 
these new intellectual feats, which are confirmed by the 
recently -invented technical apparatus which he sees in the 
shop windows. All this fills his mind with an impression 
of fabulous potentiality. By what 1 have said 1 do not 
mean to imply that human life is to-day better than at 
other times. 1 have not spoken of the quality of actual 
existence, but of its quantitative advance* its increase of 
potency. 1 believe I am thus giving an exact description 
of the conscience of the man of to-day, his vital tone, 
which consists in his feeling himself possessed of greater 
potentiality than ever before and in all previous time 
seeming dwarfed by the contrastJrThis description was 
necessary in order to meet the pronouncements on deca^ 
dence, and specifically on the decadence of the West, 
which have filled the air in the last decade. Recall the 

argument with which I set out, and which appears to me 
as simple as it is obvious. It is useless to talk of decadence 
w ithout making clear what is undergoing decay. Does this 
pessimistic term refer to culture? Is there a decadence of 
European culture? Or is there rather only a decadence of 
the national organisations of Europe? Let us take this to 
be the case. Would that entitle as to speak of Western 
decadence? By no means* for such forms of decadence 
are partial decreases relating to secondary historical ele- 
ments — culture and nationality here is only one abso- 
lute decadence; it consists in a lowering of vitality; and 

more to dissociate ideas than to associate them, as Kohler has shown 
in his investigations on the intelligence of chimpanzees. Human 
understanding has never had greater power of dissociation than 
at present. 


that only exists when it is felt as such. It is for this reason 
that I have delayed over the consideration of a phenome- 
non generally overlooked: the consciousness or sensation 
that ei r ery period has experienced of its own vital level 
This led us to speak of the “plenitude” which some cen- 
turies have felt in regard to others which, conversely, 
looked upon themselves as having fallen from greater 
heights, from some far-off brilliant golden age. And I 
ended by noting the very plain fact that our age is char- 
acterised by the strange presumption that it is superior to 
all past time; more than that, by its leaving out of con- 
sideration all that is past, by recognising no classical or 
normative epochs* by looking on itself as a new life su- 
perior to all previous forms and irreducible to therm l 
doubt if our age can be understood without keeping 
firm hold on tills observation, for that is precisely its 
special problem. If it felt that it was decadent, it would 
look on other ages as superior to itself, which would be 
equivalent to esteeming and admiring them and venerat- 
ing the principles by w r hich they were inspired. Our age 
would then have dear and firmly held ideals, even if 
incapable of realising therm But the truth is exactly the 
contrary; we live at a time when man believes himself 
fabulously capable of creation, but lie does not know what 
to create* Lord of all things, he is not lord of himself. He 
feels lost amid his own abundance. With more means at its 
disposal, more knowledge, more technique than ever, it 
turns out that the world to-day goes the same way as the 
worst of worlds that have been; it simply drifts. 

Hence the strange combination of a sense of power and 
a sense of insecurity which has taken up its abode in 
the soul of modern man. To him is happening what was 
said of the Regent during the minority of Louis XV: he 
had all the talents except the talent to make use of them. 
To the XIXth Century many things seemed no longer 



possible, firm- fixed as was its faith in progress. To-day, 
by the very fact that everything seems possible to ns, we 
have a feeling that the worst of all is possible: retrogres- 
sion, barbarism* decadence , 1 This of itself would not be 
a bad symptom; it would mean that we are once again 
forming contact with that insecurity which is essential 
to all forms of life, that anxiety both dolorous and de- 
licious contained m every moment, if w T e know how to 
live it to its innermost core, right down to its palpitating 
vitals. Generally we refuse to feel that fearsome pulsa- 
tion which makes of a moment of sincerity a tiny fleet- 
ing heart; we strain in the attempt to find security and to 
render ourselves insensible to the fundamental drama of 
our destiny, by steeping it in habits* usages, topics — in 
every kind of chloroform. It is an excellent thing, then, 
that for the first time for nearly three centuries we are 
surprised to find ourselves with the feeling that we do 
not know what is going to happen to-morrow. 

Every man who adopts a serious attitude before his 
own existence and makes himself fully responsible for it 
will feel a certain kind of insecurity which urges him to 
keep ever on the alert. The gesture which the Roman 
Army Orders imposed on the sentinel of the Legion was 
that he should keep his finger on his lips to avoid drowsi- 
ness and to maintain Ids alertness. The gesture has its value, 
it seems to ordain an even greater silence during the si- 
lence of the night, so as to be able to catch the sound 
of the secret germination of the future. The security of 
periods of “plenitude 51 — such as the last century — is an 
optical illusion which leads to neglect of the future, all 
direction of which is handed over to the mechanism of 
the universe. Both progressive Liberalism and Marxist 

% This is the root-origin of all our diagnoses of decadence. Not 
that we are decadent, but that, being predisposed to admit every 
possibility, we do not exclude that of decadence. 


Socialism presume that what is desired b y them as the 
best of possible futures will be necessarily realised* with 
necessity similar to that of astronomy. With consciences 
lulled by this idea, they have cast away the rudder of 
history, have ceased to keep their watch, have lost their 
agility and their efficiency. And so, life has escaped from 
their grasp, has become completely unsubmissive and 
to-day is floating around without any fixed course. Under 
his mask of generous futurism, the progressive no longer 
concerns himself with the future; convinced that it holds 
in store for him neither surprises nor secrets, notliing ad- 
venturous, nothing essentially new; assured that the world 
will now proceed on a straight course, neither turning 
aside nor dropping back, he puts away from him all anx- 
iety about the future and takes his stand in the definite 
presen t* Can we be surprised that the world to-day seems 
empty of purposes, anticipations, ideals? Nobody has con- 
cerned himself with supplying them! Such has been the 
desertion of the directing minorities, which is always 
found on the reverse side of the rebellion of the masses. 

But it is time for us to return to the consideration of 
this last. After having stressed the favourable aspect pre- 
sented by the triumph of the masses, it will be well to 
descend now by the other slope, a much more dangerous 


A Statistical Fact 

This essay is an attempt to discover the diagnosis of our 
time, of our actual existence. We have indicated the first 
part of it, which may be resumed thus: our life as a pro- 
gramme of possibilities is magnificent, exuberant, superior 
to all others known to history. But by the very fact that 
its scope is greater, it has overflowed all the channels, 
principles, norms, ideals handed down by tradition. It is 
more life than all previous existence, and therefore all the 
more problematical. It can find no direction from the past , 1 
It has to discover its own destiny . 

But now we must complete the diagnosis. Life, which 
means primarily w'hat is possible for us to be, is likewise, 
and for that very reason, a choice, from among these 
possibilities, of what we actually are going to be. Our 
circumstances — these possibilities — form the portion of 
life given us, imposed on us. This constitutes what we 
call the world. Life does not choose its own world, it finds 
itself, to start with, in a world determined and unchange- 
able: the world of the present. Our world is that por- 
tion of destiny which goes to make up our life. But this 
vital destiny is not a kind of mechanism. We are not 
launched into existence like a shot from a gun, with its 
trajectory absolutely predetermined. The destiny under 

1 We shall see, nevertheless, how it is possible to obtain from the 
past, if not positive orientation, certain negative counsel. The past 
will not tell us what we ought to do, but it will what we ought 
to avoid. 



which we fall when we come into this world — it is al- 
ways this world, the actual one— consists in the exact 
contrary. Instead of imposing on us one trajectory, it im- 
poses several, and consequently forces us to choose. Sur- 
prising condition, this, of our existence! To live is to feel 
ourselves fatally obliged to exercise our liberty } to de- 
cide what wc are going to be in this world. Not for a 
single moment is our activity of decision allowed to rest. 
Even w hen in desperation we abandon ourselves to what- 
ever may happen, we have decided not to decide. 

It is, then, false to say that in life “circumstances de- 
cide.” On the contrary, circumstances are the dilemma, 
constantly renewed, in presence of which we have to 
make our decision; what actually decides is our character. 
All this is equally valid for collective life. In it also there 
is, first, a horizon of possibilities, and then, a determina- 
tion which chooses and decides on the effective form of 
collective existence. This determination has its origin in 
the character of society, or what comes to the same thing, 
of the type of men dominant in it. In our time it is the 
mass-man w r ho dominates, it is he who decides. It will 
not do to say that this is what happened in the period 
of democracy, of universal suffrage. Under universal suf- 
frage, the masses do not decide, their role consists in sup- 
porting the decision of one minority or other. It was these 
w r ho presented their “programmes” — excellent word. Such 
programmes w r ere, in fact, programmes of collective life. 
In them the masses were invited to accept a line of de- 

To-day something very different is happening* If we 
observe the public life of the countries where the tri- 
umph of the masses has made most advance — these are the 
Mediterranean countries — we are surprised to find that 
politically they are living from day to day. The phe- 
nomenon is an extraordinarily strange one. Public author- 



ity is in rhe hands of a representative of the masses. These 
are so powerful that they have wiped out all opposition. 
They arc in possession of power in such an unassailable 
manner that it would be difficult to find in history exam- 
ples of a Government so all-powerful as these are. And 
yet public authority — the Government — exists from hand 
to mouth, it does not offer itself as a frank solution for 
the future, it represents no dear announcement of the 
future, it does not stand out as the beginning of some- 
thing whose development or evolution is conceivable. In 
short, it lives without any vital programme, any plan of 
existence. It does not know where it is going, because, 
strictly speaking, it has no fixed road, no predetermined 
trajectory before it. When such a public authority at- 
tempts to justify itself it makes no reference at all to the 
future. On the contrary, it shuts itself up in the present, 
and says with perfect sincerity: “I am an abnormal form 
of Government imposed by circumstances. 7 ' Hence its 
activities are reduced to dodging the difficulties of the 
hour; not solving them, but escaping from them for the 
rime being, employing any methods whatsoever, even at 
the cost of accumulating thereby still greater difficulties 
for the hour which follows. Such has public power al- 
ways been when exercised directly by the masses; omnip- 
otent and ephemeral. The mass-man is he whose life 
lacks any purpose, and simply goes drifting along* Con- 
sequently, though Iris possibilities and his powers be enor- 
mous, he constructs nothing* And it is this type of man 
who decides in our tune. It will be well, then, that we 
analyse his character, 

The key to this analysis is found when, returning to the 
starting-point of this essay, we ask ourselves: ** Whence 
have come all these multitudes which nowadays fill to 
overflowing the stage of history?” Some years ago the 
eminent economist, Werner Sombart, laid stress on a very 


simple fact, which \ am surprised is not present to every 
mind which meditates on contemporary events. This very 
simple fact is sufficient of itself to clarify our vision of 
the Europe of to-day, or if not sufficient, puts us on the 
road to enlightenment. The fact is this: from the time 
European history begins in the Vlth Century up to the 
year 1800 — that is, through the course of twelve centuries 
— Europe does not succeed in reaching a total population 
greater than 180 million inhabitants. Now, from 1800 to 
1914— little more than a century — the population of Eu- 
rope mounts from 180 to 460 millions! I take it that the 
contrast between these figures leaves no doubt as to the 
prolific qualities of the last century* In three generations 
it produces a gigantic mass of humanity which, launched 
like a torrent over the historic area, has inundated it. This 
fact, ! repeat, should suffice to make us realise the triumph 
of the masses and all that is implied and announced by it. 
Furthermore, it should be added as the most concrete 
item to that rising of the level of existence which I have 
already indicated. 

But at the same time this fact proves to us how un- 
founded is our admiration when we lay stress on the in- 
crease of new countries like the United States of Amer- 
ica. We are astonished at this increase, which has reached 
to 100 millions in a century, when the really astonishing 
fact is the teeming fertility of Europe. Here we have an- 
other reason for correcting the deceptive notion of the 
Americanisation of Europe. Not even that characteristic 
’which might seem specifically American — the rapidity 
of increase in population — is peculiarly such. Europe has 
increased in the last century much more than America. 
America has been formed from the overflow of Europe, 

But although this fact ascertained by Werner Som- 
bart is not as well known as it should be, the confused 
idea of a considerable population increase in Europe was 


5 1 

widespread enough to render unnecessary Insistence on it. 
In the figures cited, then, it is not the increase of pop- 
ulation which interests me, but the fact that by the con- 
trast with the previous figures the dizzy rapidity of the 
increase is brought into relief. This Is the point of im- 
portance for us at the moment. For that rapidity means 
that heap after heap of human beings have been dumped 
on to the historic scene at such an accelerated rate, that 
it has been difficult to saturate them with traditional cul- 
ture. And in fact, the average type of European at present 
possesses a soul, healthier and stronger It is true than those 
of the last century, but much more simple. Hence, at 
times he leaves the impression of a primitive man sud- 
denly risen in the midst of a very old civilisation, In the 
schools, which were such a source of pride to the last 
century, it has been impossible to do more than instruct 
the masses in the technique of modern life; it has been 
found impossible to educate them. They have been given 
tools for an Intenser form of existence, but no feeling for 
their great historic duties; they have been hurriedly inocu- 
lated with the pride and power of modem instruments, 
but not with their spirit* Hence they will have nothing 
to do with their spirit, and the new generations are get- 
ting ready to take over command of the w orld as if the 
world were a paradise without trace of former footsteps, 
without traditional and highly complex problems. 

To the last century, then, falls the glory and the re- 
sponsibility of having let loose upon the area of history 
the great multitudes. And this fact affords the most suit- 
able view-point in order to judge that century w ith equity. 
There must have been something extraordinary, incompa- 
rable, in it when such harvests of human fruit w ere pro- 
duced in its climate. Any preference for the principles 
w hich inspired other past ages is frivolous and ridiculous 
if one does not previously show' proof of having realised 


5 2 

this magnificent fact and attempted to digest it. The whole 
of history stands out as a gigantic laboratory in which all 
possible experiments have been made to obtain a formula 
of public life most favourable to the plant “man,” And 
beyond all possible explaining away, we find ourselves 
face to face with the fact that, by submitting the seed of 
humanity to the treatment of two principles, liberal de- 
mocracy and technical knowledge, in a single century the 
species in Europe has been triplicated. 

Such an overwhelming fact forces us, unless we prefer 
not to use our reason, to draw these conclusions: first, 
that liberal democracy based on technical knowledge is 
the highest type of public life hitherto known; secondly, 
that that type may not be the best imaginable, but the one 
we imagine as superior to it must preserve the essence of 
those two principles; and thirdly, that to return to any 
forms of existence inferior to that of the XiXth Century 
is suicidal 

Once we recognise this with all the clearness that the 
clearness of the fact itself demands we must then rise 
up against the XIXth Century. If it is evident that there 
was in it something extraordinary and incomparable, it 
is no less so that it must have suffered from certain radical 
vices, certain constitutional defects, when it brought into 
being a caste of men — the mass-man in revolt— who are 
placing in imminent danger those very principles to which 
they owe their existence. If that human type continues 
to be master in Europe, thirty years will suffice to send 
our continent back to barbarism. Legislative and industrial 
technique will disappear with the same facility with which 
so many trade secrets have often disappeared . 1 The w hole 

Hermann Wely, one of the greatest of present-day physicists, the 
companion and continuer of the work of Einstein, is in the habit 
of saying in conversation that if ten or twelve specified individuals 
were to die suddenly, it is almost certain that the marvels of physics 
to-day would be lost fox ever to humanity. A preparation of many 


of life will be contracted. The actual abundance of pos- 
sibilities will change into practical scarcity, a pitiful im- 
potence, a real decadence. For the rebellion of the masses 
is one and the same thing with what Rathe nan called “the 
vertical invasion of the barbarians.” It is of great im- 
portance, then, to understand thoroughly this mass- man 
with his potentialities of the greatest good and the greatest 

centuries has been needed \n order to accommodate the mental 
organ to the abstract complexity of physical theory. Any event 
might annihilate such prodigious human possibilities, which in 
addition are the basis of future technical development. 


The Dissection of the 
Mass-Man Begins 

What is he like, this mass-man who to-day dominates 
public life, political and non-political, and why is he like 
it, that is, how has he been produced? 

It will be well to answer both questions together, for 
they throw light on one another. The man who to-day is 
attempting to take the lead in European existence is very 
different from the man who directed the XIXth Century, 
but he was produced and prepared by the XIXth Century. 
Any keen mind of the years 1820, 1850, and 18S0 could 
by simple a priori reasoning, foresee the gravity of the 
present historical situation, and in fact nothing is happen- 
ing now which was not foreseen a hundred years ago* 
“The masses are advancing/ 1 said Hegel in apocalyptic 
fashion, “Without some new spiritual influence, our age, 
which is a revolutionary age, will produce a catastrophe,” 
was the pronouncement of Comte. “I see the flood-tide 
of nihilism rising,” shrieked Nietzsche from a crag of the 
Engadine* It is false to say that history cannot be foretold. 
Numberless rimes this has been done. If the future offered 
no opening to prophecy, it could not be understood when 
fulfilled in the present and on the point of falling back 
into the past* The idea that the historian is on the reverse 
side a prophet, sums up the whole philosophy of history* 
It is true that it is only possible to anticipate the general 


structure of the future, but that is all that we in truth 
understand of the past or of the present* Accordingly, if 
you want a good view of your o%vn age, look at it from 
far off. From what distance? The answer is simple. Just 
far enough to prevent you seeing Cleopatra's nose. 

What appearance did life present to that multitudinous 
man who in ever-increasing abundance the XIXth Cen- 
tury kept producing? To start with, an appearance of uni- 
versal material ease. Never had the average man been 
able to solve his economic problem with greater facility. 
Whilst there was a proportionate decrease of great for- 
tunes and life became harder for the individual worker, 
the middle classes found their economic horizon widened 
every day. Every day added a new luxury to their stand- 
ard of life* Every day their position was more secure and 
more independent of another's will. What before would 
have been considered one of fortune’s gifts, inspiring hum’ 
ble gratitude towards destiny, was converted into a right, 
not to be grateful for, but to be insisted on* 

From iyoo on, the worker likewise begins to extend and 
assure his existence. Nevertheless, he has to struggle to 
obtain his end. He does not, like the middle class, find the 
benefit attentively served up to him by a society and a 
state which are a marvel of organisation* To this case and 
security of economic conditions are to be added the physi- 
cal ones, comfort and public order* Life runs on smooth 
rails, and there is no likelihood of anything violent or 
dangerous breaking in on it. Such a free, untrammelled 
situation was bound to instil into the depths of such souls 
an idea of existence which might be expressed m the 
witty and penetrating phrase of an old country like ours: 
“Wide is Castile*” That is to say, in all its primary and 
decisive aspects, life presented itself to the new man as 
exempt from restrictions. The realisation of this fact and 
of its importance becomes immediate when we remember 


that such a freedom of existence was entirely lacking to 
the common men of the past* On the contrary, for them 
fife was a burdensome destiny , economically and physi- 
cally. From birth, existence meant to them an accumula- 
tion of impediments which they were obliged to suffer, 
without possible solution other than to adapt themselves 
to them, to settle down in the narrow space they left 

But still more evident is the contrast of situations, if 
we pass from the material to the civil and moral The 
average man, from the second half of the XIXth Century 
on, finds no social barriers raised against him* That is to 
say, that as regards the forms of public life he no longer 
finds himself from birth confronted with obstacles and 
limitations. There is nothing to force him to limit his 
existence. Here again, "Wide is Castile,” There are no 
"estates" or “castes.” T lie re are no civil privileges. The 
ordinary man learns that all men are equal before the law. 

Never in the course of history had man been placed 
in vital surroundings even remotely familiar to those set 
up by the conditions just mentioned. We are, in fact, 
confronted with a radical innovation in human destiny, 
implanted by the XIXth Century. A new stage has been 
mounted for human existence, new both in the physical 
and the social aspects. Three principles have made pos- 
sible this new world: liberal democracy, scientific ex- 
periment, and industrialism. The two latter may be 
summed up in one word: technicism. Not one of those 
principles was invented by the XIXth Century; they 
proceed from the two previous centuries. The glory of 
the XIXth Century lies not in their discovery, but in their 
implantation. No one but recognises that fact. But it is 
not sufficient to recognise it in the abstract, it is necessary 
to realise its inevitable consequences. 

The XIXth Century was of its essence revolutionary. 


This aspect is not to be looked for in the scenes of the 
barricades, which are mere incidents, but in the fact that 
it placed the average man — the great social mass — in con- 
ditions of life radically opposed to those by which he 
had always been surrounded- It turned his public exist- 
ence upside down. Revolution is not the uprising against 
pre-existing order, “bu t the setting up of a new order 
contradictory to the traditional one. I Icncc there is no 
exaggeration in saying that the man who is the product 
of the XIXth Century is, for the effects of public life, a 
man apart from all other men. The XVII It h- Century man 
differs, of course, from the XVI It h- Century man, and 
this one in turn from his fellow of the XVI th Century, but 
they are all related, similar, even identical in essentials 
when confronted with this new man. For the “common" 
man of all periods “life” had principally meant limita- 
tion, obligation, dependence; In a word, pressure. Say op- 
pression, if you like, provided it be understood not only 
in the juridical and social sense, but also in the cosmic. 
For it is this latter which has never been lacking up to 
a hundred years ago, the date at which starts the prac- 
tically limitless expansion of scientific technique — physi- 
cal and administrative. Previously, even for the rich and 
powerful, the world was a place of poverty, difficulty and 
danger , 1 * * * * * * 

The world which surrounds the new man from his 
birth does not compel him to limit himself in any fashion, 
it sets up no veto in opposition to him; on the contrary, 

1 However rich an individual might be in relation to Ids fellows, 

as the world in its totality was poor, the sphere of conveniences 

and commodities with which his wealth furnished him was very 8 

limited. The life of the average man to-day is easier, more con- 

venient and safer than that of the most powerful of another age. 

What difference does it make to him not to be richer than others 

if the world is richer and furnishes him with magnificent roads, 

railways, telegraphs, hutch, personal safety and aspirin? 

5 8 THE revolt of the masses 

it incites his appetite, which in principle can increase in- 
definitely. Now it turns out — and this is most important 
— that this world of the XIX th and early XXth Centuries 
not only has the perfections and the completeness which 
it actually possesses, but furthermore suggests to those 
who dwell in it the radical assurance that tO-morraw it 
will be still richer, ampler, more perfect, as if it enjoyed 
a spontaneous, inexhaustible pow er of increase. Even to- 
day, in spite of some signs w hich are making a tiny breach 
in that sturdy faith, even to-day, there are few r men w ho 
doubt that motorcars will in five years 1 time be more 
comfortable and cheaper than to-day. They believe in this 
as they believe that the sun will rise in the morning, The 
metaphor is an exact one. For, in fact, the common man, 
finding himself in a w'orJd so excellent, technically and 
socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, 
and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-en- 
dowed individuals which the creation of this new world 
presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all 
these facilities still require the support of certain difficult 
human virtues, the least failure of w hich would cause the 
rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice. 

This leads us to note down in our psychological chart 
of the mass-man of to-day tw^o fundamental traits: the 
free expansion of his vita] desires, and therefore, of his 
personality; and his radical ingratitude towards all that 
has made possible the ease of his existence. These traits 
together make up the well-known psychology of the 
spoilt child. And in fact it would entail no error to use 
this psychology^ as a “sight” through which to observe 
the soul of the masses of to-day. Heir to an ample and 
generous past— generous both in ideals and in activities 
— the new' commonalty has been spoiled by the world 
around it. To spoil means to put no limit on caprice, to 
give one the impression that everything is permitted to 


him and chat he has no obligations* The young child 
exposed to this regime has no experience of its own lim- 
its. By reason of the removal of all external restraint, all 
clashing with other things, he comes actually to believe 
that he is the only one that exists, and gets used to not 
considering others, especially not considering them as 
superior to himself. 1 his feeling of another’s superiority 
could only be instilled into him by someone who, being 
stronger than he is, should force him to give up some 
desire, to restrict himself, to restrain himself* He would 
then have learned this fundamental discipline- “Here I end 
and here begins another more powerful than I am. In 
the world, apparently, there are two people: I myself and 
another superior to me*” The ordinary man of past times 
was daily taught this elemental wisdom by the world 
about him, because It was a world so rudely organised, 
that catastrophes were frequent, and there was nothing 
in it certain, abundant, stable. But the new masses find 
themselves in the presence of a prospect full of possi- 
bilities, and furthermore, quite secure, with everything 
ready to their hands, independent of any previous efforts 
on their part, just as we find the sun in the heavens with- 
out our hoisting it up on our shoulders* No human being 
thanks another for the air he breathes, for no one has 
produced the air for him; it belongs to the sum-total 
of what “is there,” of which we say "it is natural,” because 
it never fails* And these spoiled masses arc unintelligent 
enough to believe that the material and social organisa- 
tion, placed at their disposition like the air, is of the same 
origin, since apparently it never fails them, and is almost 
as perfect as the natural scheme of things. 

My thesis, therefore, is this: the very perfection with 
which the XIXth Century gave an organisation to certain 
orders of existence has caused the masses benefited thereby 
to consider it, not as an organised, but as a natural sys- 


tem. Thus is explained and defined the absurd state of 
mind revealed by these masses ; they are only concerned 
with their own well-being, and at the same time they re- 
main alien to the cause of that well-being. As they do not 
see* behind the benefits of civilisation, marvels of inven- 
tion and construction which can only be maintained by 
great effort and foresight, they imagine that their role is 
limited to demanding these benefits peremptorily, as if 
they were natural rights. In the disturbances caused by 
scarcity of food, the mob goes in search of bread, and the 
means it employs is generally to wreck the bakeries* This 
may serve as a symbol of the attitude adopted, on a greater 
and more complicated scale, by the masses of to-day to- 
wards the civilisation by which they are supported. 


Noble Life and Common 
Life, or EfFort and Inertia 

To start with, we are what our world invites us to be, and 
the basic features of our soul are impressed upon it by 
the form of its surroundings as in a mould. Naturally, for 
our life is no other than our relations with the world 
around. The general aspect which it presents to us will 
fonn the general aspect of our own life. It is for this rea- 
son that I stress so much the observation that the world 
into which the masses of to-day have been born displays 
features radically new to Iiistory. Whereas in past times 
life for the average man meant finding all around him 
difficulties, dangers, want, limitations of his destiny, de- 
pendence, the new world appears as a sphere of practically 
limitless possibilities, safe, and independent of anyone. 
Based on this primary and lasting impression, the mind 
of every contemporary man will be formed, just as previ- 
ous minds were formed on the opposite impression. For 
that basic impression becomes an interior voice which 
ceaselessly utters certain words in the depths of each in- 
dividual, and tenaciously suggests to him a definition of 
life which is, at the same time, a moral imperative. And if 
the traditional sentiment whispered: To live is to feel 

oneself limited, and therefore to have to count with that 
which limits us f ” the newest voice shouts: “To live is to 
meet with no limitation whatever and, consequently, to 



abandon oneself calmly to one's self. Practically nothing 
is impossible, nothing is dangerous, and, in principle, no- 
body is superior to anybody,” This basic experience com- 
pletely modi lies the traditional, persistent structure of 
the mass-man. For the latter always felt himself, by his 
nature, confronted with material limitations and higher 
social powers. Such, in his eyes, was life. If he succeeded 
in improving his situation, if he climbed the social ladder, 
he attributed this to a piece of fortune which was favour- 
able to him in particular. And if not to this, then to an 
enormous effort, of which he knew well what it had cost 
him. In both cases it w as a question of an exception to the 
general character of life and the world; an exception 
which, as such, was due to some very special cause. 

But the modem mass finds complete freedom as its 
natural, established condition, without any special cause 
for it. Nothing from outside incites it to recognise limits 
to itself and, consequently, to refer at all times to other 
authorities higher than itself. Until lately, the Chinese 
peasant believed that the welfare of his existence depended 
on the private virtues w hich the Emperor was pleased to 
possess. Therefore, his life was constantly related to this 
supreme authority on which it depended. Btit the man we 
are now analysing accustoms himself not to appeal pom 
his own to any authority outside him . He is satisfied with 
himself exactly as he is. Ingenuously, without any need 
of being vain, as the most natural thing in the world, he 
will tend to consider and affirm as good every tiling he 
finds within himself: opinions, appetites, preferences, 
tastes. Why not, if, as we have seen, nothing and nobody 
force him to realise that he is a second-class man, subject 
to many limitations, incapable of creating or conserving 
that very organisation w hich gives his life the fullness and 
contentedness on which he bases this assertion of his per- 


The mass-man would never have accepted authority 
external to himself had not his surroundings violently 
forced him to do so. As to-day his surroundings do not 
so force him, the everlasting mass-man, true to his char- 
acter, ceases to appeal to other authority and feels himself 
lord of his own existence. On the contrary the select man, 
the excellent man is urged, by interior necessity, to appeal 
from himself to some standard beyond himself, superior to 
himself, whose service he freely accepts. Let us recall that 
at the start we distinguished the excellent man from the 
common man by saying that the former is the one who 
makes great demands on himself, and the latter the one 
who makes no demands on himself, but contents himself 
with what he is, and is delighted with himself * 1 Contrary 
to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and 
not the common man who lives in essential servitude* Life 
has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service 
to something transcendental* Hence he docs not look upon 
the necessity of serving as an oppression. When, by 
chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and 
invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, 
with which to coerce himself. This is life lived as a dis- 
cipline — the noble life, Nobility is defined by the demands 
it makes on us — by obligations, not by rights* Noblesse 
oblige. “To live as one likes is plebeian; the noble man 
aspires to order and law ” (Goethe). The privileges of no- 
bility arc not in their origin concessions or favours; on the 
contrary, they are conquests. And their maintenance 
supposes, in principle, that the privileged individual is 
capable of reconquering them, at any moment, if it were 

1 That man is intellectually of the mass who, in face of any prob- 
lem, is satisfied with thinking the first thing he finds in his head. 
On the contrary, the excellent man is he who contemns what he 
finds in his mind without previous effort, and only accepts as 
worthy of him what is still far above him and what requires a 
further effort in order to be reached* 



necessary, and anyone were to dispute them . 1 Private 
rights or privileges are not, then, passive possession and 
mere enjoyment, but they represent the standard attained 
bv personal effort. On the other hand, common rights, 
such as those "of the man and the citizen,” are passive 
property, pure usufruct and benefit, the generous gift of 
fate which every man finds before him, and which an- 
swers to no effort whatever, unless it be that of breathing 
and avoiding insanity. I would say, then, that an imper- 
sonal right is held, a personal one is upheld, 

it is annoying to see the degeneration suffered in ordi- 
nary speech by a word so inspiring as "nobili ty.” For, 
by coming to mean for many people hereditary "noble 
blood,” it is changed into something similar to common 
rights, into a static, passive quality which is received and 
transmitted like something inert. But the strict sense, the 
etymon of the word nobility is essentially dynamic. Noble 
means the "well known,” that is, known by everyone, 
famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the 
anonymous mass. It implies an unusual effort as the cause 
of his fame. Noble, then, is equivalent to effortful, excel- 
lent. The nobility or fame of the son is pure benefit. The 
son is known because the father made himself famous. He 
is known by reflection, and in fact, hereditary nobil- 
ity has an indirect character, it is mirrored light, lunar 
nobility, something derived from the dead. The only 
thing left to it of living, authentic, dynamic is the impulse 
it stirs in the descendant to maintain the level of effort 
reached by the ancestor. Always, even in this altered 
sense, noblesse oblige * The original noble lavs an obliga- 
tion on himself, the noble heir receives the obligation 
with his inheritance, but in any case there is a certain 
contradiction in the passing-on of nobility from the first 
noble to his successors. The Chinese, more logical, invert 

l Vide Espana invertebrada {1922), p. 156, 


the order of transmission; it is not the father who ennobles 
the son, but the son who, by acquiring noble rank, com- 
municates it to his forebears, by his personal efforts bring- 
ing fame to his humble stock* Hence, when granting 
degrees of nobility, they are graduated by the number of 
previous generations which are honoured; there are those 
who ennoble only their fathers, and those who stretch 
back their fame to the fifth or tenth grandparent. The 
ancestors live bv reason of the actual man, whose nobility 
is effective, active— in a word; is not 

“Nobility 1 * does not appear as a formal expression until 
the Roman Empire, and then precisely in opposition to 
the hereditary nobles, then in decadence. 

For me, then, nobility is synonymous with a life of 
effort, ever set on excelling oneself, in passing beyond 
what one is to w r hat one sets up as a duty and an obliga- 
tion. In this w ay the noble life stands opposed to the com- 
mon or inert life, which reclines statically upon itself, 
condemned to perpetual immobility, unless an external 
force compels it to come out of itself. Hence we apply 
the term mass to this kind of man — not so much because 
of his multitude as because of his inertia. 

As one advances in life, one realises more and more that 
the majority of men — and of women— are incapable of 
any other effort than that strictly imposed on them as a 
reaction to external compulsion. And for that reason, the 
few individuals we have come across who are capable of 
a spontaneous and joyous effort stand out isolated, monu- 
mentalised, so to speak, in our experience. These are the 
select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active and 
not merely reactive, for w hom life is a perpetual striving, 

‘As in the foregoing it is only a matter of bringing the word 
“nobility” back to its origin a J sense which excludes inheritance, 
this is not the: place to study the fact that a “nobility of blood 1 ' 
makes its appearance so often in history* This question, then, is 
left untouched. 



an incessant course of training. Training — askesis. These 
are the ascetics . 1 This apparent digression should not 
cause surprise. In order to define the actual mass-man* 
who is as much “mass” as ever, but who wishes to supplant 
the ' ‘excellent,” it has been necessary to contrast him with 
the two pure forms which are mingled in him; the normal 
mass and the genuine uoble or man of effort. 

Now wc can advance more rapidly* because w r e are 
now in possession of what, to my thinking, is the key — 
the psychological equation — of the human type dominant 
to-day. All that follows is a consequence, a corollary, of 
that root-structure, which may be summed up thus: the 
world as organised by the XlXth Century, when auto- 
matically producing a new man, has infused into him 
formidable appetites and powerful means of every kind 
for satisfying them. These include the economic, the 
physical (hygiene, average health higher than any pre- 
ceding age), the civil and the technical (by which I mean 
the enormous quantity of partial knowledge and practical 
efficiency possessed by the average man to-day and lack- 
ing to him in the past). After having supplied him with 
all these powers, the XIXth Century has abandoned him 
to himself, and the average man, following his natural dis- 
position, has withdrawn into himself. Hence, we are in 
presence of a mass stronger than that of any preceding 
period, but differing from the traditional type in that it 
remains hermetically enclosed within itself, incapable of 
submitting to anything or anybody, believing itself self- 
sufficient — in a word, indocile . 2 If things go on as they are 
at present, it will be every day more noticeable in Europe 
—and by reflection, throughout the whole world — that 

1 Vide “El Qrigen deportira del Estado," in El Espectador ) VII, 
recently published. 

■On the indocility of the masses, especially of the Spanish masses, 

I have already spoken in Espafk Invertebradi t (1922), and I refer 
the reader to what is there said. 


the masses are incapable of submitting to direction of any 
kind. In the difficult times that are at hand for our conti- 
nent, it is possible that, under a sudden affliction, they may 
for a moment have the good will to accept, in certain 
specially urgent matters, the direction of the superior 

But even that good will will result in failure. For the 
basic texture of their soul is wrought of hermetism and 
indocility; they are from birth deficient in the faculty of 
giving attention to what is outside themselves, be it fact 
or person. They will wish to follow/ someone, and they 
will be unable. They will want to listen, and will discover 
they are deaf* 

On the other hand, it is illusory to imagine that the 
mass-man of to-day, however superior his vital level may 
be compared with that of other times, will be able to con- 
trol, by himself, the process of civilisation, I say process, 
and not progress. The simple process of preserving our 
present civilisation is supremely complex, and demands 
incalculably subtle powers. 1 11- fitted to direct it is this 
average man who has learned to use much of the machin- 
ery of civilisation, but w r ho is characterised by root-igno- 
rance of the very principles of that civilisation* 

I reiterate to the reader who has patiently followed me 
up to this point, the importance of not giving to the facts 
enunciated a primarily political significance. On the con- 
trary, political activities, of all those in public life the most 
efficient and the most visible, are the final product of 
others more intimate, more impalpable. Hence, political 
indocility would not be so grave did it not proceed from 
a deeper, more decisive intellectual indocility. In conse- 
quence, until we have analysed this latter, the thesis of 
this essay will not stand out in its final clarity. 


Why the Masses Intervene 
In Everything, and Why 
Their Intervention is 
Solely by Violence 

We take it, then, that there has happened something 
supremely paradoxical, but which was in truth most natu- 
ral; from the very opening-out of the world and of life 
for the average man, his soul has shut up within him. 
Well, then, I maintain that it is in tills obliteration of the 
average soul that the rebellion of the masses consists, and 
in this in its turn lies the gigantic problem set before hu- 
manity to-day. 

I know w ell that many of my readers do not think as 
! do. This also is most natural and confirms the theorem. 
For although my opinion turn out erroneous, there will 
always remain the fact that many of those dissentient 
readers have never given five minutes' thought to this 
complex matter. How are they going to think as I do? 
But by believing that they have a right to an opinion on 
the matter without previous effort to work one out for 
themselves, they prove patently that they belong to that 
absurd type of human being which I have called the 
“rebel mass. * 1 ’ It is precisely w hat I mean by having one's 
soul obliterated, hermetically closed. Here it would be the 


special case of intellectual henneusm* The individual finds 
himself already with a stock of ideas. He decides to con- 
tent himself with them and to consider himself intellec- 
tually complete. As he feels the lack of nothing outside 
himself, he settles down definitely amid his mental fumi- 


ture. Such is the mechanism of self -obliteration. 

The mass-man regards himself as perfect- The select 
man, in order to regard himself so, needs to be specially 
vain, and the belief in his perfection is not united with 
him consubstantially, it is not ingenuous, but arises from 
his vanity, and even for himself has a fictitious, imagi- 
nary, problematic character. Hence the vain man stands 
in need of others, he seeks in them support for the idea 
that he wishes to have of himself. So that not even in 
this diseased state, not even when blinded by vanity, 
docs the “noble” man succeed in feeling himself as in 
truth complete. Contrariwise, it never occurs to the medi- 
ocre man of our days, to the New Adam, to doubt of 
his own plenitude. His self-confidence is, like Adam's, 
paradisiacal. The innate hermetism of his soul is an ob- 
stacle to the necessary condition for his discovery of his 
insufficiency, namely: a comparison of himself with other 
beings. To compare himself would mean to go out of him- 
self for a moment and to transfer himself to his neighbour. 
But the mediocre soul is incapable of transmigrations — 
the supreme form of sport. 

We find ourselves, then, met with the same difference 
that eternally exists between the fool and the man of 
sense. The latter is constantly catching himself wit lain an 
inch of being a fool; hence he makes an effort to escape 
from the imminent folly, and in that effort lies his intel- 
ligence. The fool, on the other hand, does not suspect 
himself; he thinks himself the most prudent of men, hence 
the enviable tranquillity w p ith which the fool settles down, 
instals himself in his own folly. Like those insects which 



it is impossible to extract from the orifice they inhabit, 
there is no way of dislodging the fool from his folly, to 
take him away for a while from his blind state and to force 
him to contrast his own dull vision with other keener 
forms of sight. The fool is a fool for life; he is devoid of 
pores. This is w r hy Anatole France said that the fool is 
much worse than the knave, for the knave does take a 
rest sometimes, the fool never * 1 * * * * * 

It is not a question of the mass-man being a fool On 
the contrary, to-day he is more clever, has more capacity 
of understanding titan his fellow of any previous period* 
But that capacity is of no use to him; In reality, the vague 
feeling that he possesses it seems only to shut him up 
more within himself and keep him from using it. Once 
for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, 
fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance 
has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only 
explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose 
them everywhere. This is what in my first chapter I laid 
down as the characteristic of our time; not that the vulgar 
believes itself super-excellent and not vulgar, but that 
the vulgar proclaims and imposes the rights of vulgarity, 
or vulgarity as a right. 

The command over public life exercised to-day by the 
intellectually vulgar is perhaps the factor of the present 
situation which is most novel, least assimilable to anything 
in the past. At least in European history up to the present, 
the vulgar had never believed itself to have “ideas 7 ’ on 
things* It had beliefs, traditions, experiences, proverbs, 

1 1 have often asked myself the following Question. There is no 

doubt that at all times for many men one of the greatest tortures 

of their lives has been the contact, the collision with the folly of 

their neighbours. And yet how is It that there has never been 

attempted — I think this is so — a study on this matter, an Essay on 

Folly? For the pages of Erasmus do not treat of this aspect of 

the matter. 


mental habits, hut it never imagined itself in possession 
of theoretical opinions on what things are or ought to he 
— for example, on politics or literature. What the poli- 
tician planned or carried out seemed good or bad to it, 
it granted or withheld its support, but its action was 
limited to being an echo, positive or negative, of the 
creative activity of others. It never occurred to It to op- 
pose to the “ideas” of the politician others of its own, nor 
even to judge the politician’s “ideas” from the tribunal of 
other “ideas” which it believed itself to possess. Similarly 
in art and in other aspects of public life. An innate con- 
sciousness of its limitation, of its not being qualified to 
theorise , 1 effectively prevented it doing so. The neces- 
sary consequence of this was that the vulgar never 
thought, even remotely, of making a decision on any one 
of the public activities, which in their greater part are 
theoretical in character. To-day, on the other hand, the 
average man has the most mathematical “ideas” on all 
that happens or ought to happen in the universe, Hcncc 
he has lost the use of his hearing. Why should he listen 
if he has within him all that is necessary? There is no 
reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pro- 
nouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning pub- 
lic life, in which he does not Intervene, blind and deaf as 
he is, imposing his “opinions,” 

But, is this not an advantage? Is it not a sign of immense 
progress that the masses should have “ideas,” that is to 
say, should be cultured? By no means. The “ideas” of 
the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their pos- 
session culture. An idea is a putting truth in checkmate. 
Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself 
to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game im- 
posed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is 

1 There is no getting away from itj every opinion menus setting 
up a theory. 



no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a 
series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in 
a discussion* These standards are the principles on which 
culture rests. 1 am not concerned with the form they 
take* What I affirm is that there is no culture where there 
are no standards to which our fellow-men can have re- 
course. There is no culture where there are no principles 
of legality to which to appeal. There is no culture w here 
there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual posi- 
tions to which a dispute may be referred. 1 There is no 
culture where economic relations are not subject to a 
regulating principle to protect interests involved. There 
is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recog- 
nise the necessity of justifying the work of art. 

When all these things are lacldng there is no culture; 
there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And 
let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to 
appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the 
masses* The traveller who arrives in a barbarous country 
knows that in that territory there are no ruling principles 
to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there 
are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of 
standards to which appeal can be made. 

The varying degrees of culture are measured by the 
greater or less precision of the standards. Where there is 
little such precision, these standards rule existence only 
grosso modo; w here there is much they penetrate in de- 
tail into the exercise of all the activities. 2 

l lf anyone in s discussion with us is not concerned with adjust- 
ing himself to truth, if he has no wish to find the truth, he is 
intellectually a barbarian. That, in fact, is the position of the mass- 
man when he speaks, lectures, or writes* 

a The paucity of Spanish intellectual culture is shown, not in 
greater or less knowledge, but in the habitual lack of caution and 
care to adjust one’s self to truth which is usually displayed by 
those who speak and write. It is not the fact of judging rightly 
or wrongly— truth is not within our reach— but the lack of scruple 


Anyone can observe that in Europe, for some years 
past, “strange things" have begun to happen. To give a 
concrete example of these “strange things” I shall name 
certain political movements, such as Syndicalism and Fas- 
cism. We must not think that they seem strange simply 
because they are new. The enthusiasm for novelty is so 
innate in the European that it has resulted in his produc- 
ing the most unsettled history of all known to us. The 
element of strangeness in these new facts is not to he 
attributed to the element of novelty, but to the extra- 
ordinary form taken by these new things. Under the 
species of Syndicalism and Fascism there appears for the 
first time in Europe a type of man who docs not want 
to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself 
resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: 
the right not to be reasonable, the “reason of unreason." * 1 
Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new 
mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to 
rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their 
political conduct the structure of the new mentality is 
revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner; but the 
key to it lies in intellectual hermetism* The average man 
finds himself with “ideas” in his head, but he lacks the 
faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the 
rare atmosphere in which ideas live. He wishes to have 
opinions, hut is unwilling to accept the conditions and 
presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas 
are in effect nothing more than appetites in words, some- 
thing like musical romanzas. 

To have an idea means believing one is in possession 

which makes them omit the elementary requirements for right 
judgment. We are I lice the country priest who triumphantly re- 
fines the iManichean without having troubled to inquire what the 
Manichean believes. 

1 The reference is to the well-known phrase in Don Quixote. — T k. 

74 the revolt of the masses 

of the reasons for having it, and consequently means be- 
lieving that there is such a thing as reason, a world of 
intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is 
identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting 
oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and 
therefore believing that the highest form of intercom- 
munion is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas 
are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost 
if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the 
obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying out- 
side himself. Hence the “new thing 1 ' in Europe is “to 
have done with discussions,” and detestation is expressed 
for all forms of intercommunion which imply acceptance 
of objective standards, ranging from conversation to Par- 
liament, and taking in science. This means that there is 
a renunciation of the common life based on culture, which 
is subject to standards, and a return to the common life 
of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in 
order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is de- 
sired. The herniedsm of the soul which, as we have seen 
before, urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public 
life, also inevitably leads it to one single process of inter- 
vention: direct action. 

When the reconstruction of the origins of our epoch 
is undertaken, it will be observed that the first notes of 
its special harmony were sounded in those groups of 
French syndicalists and realists of about [900, inventors 
of the method and the name of “direct action. 511 Alan has 
always had recourse to violence; sometimes this recourse 
was a mere crime, and does not interest us here. But at 
other times violence was the means resorted to by him 
who had previously exhausted all others in defence of 
the rights of justice which he thought he possessed. It 
may be regrettable that human nature tends on occasion 
to this form of violence, but it is undeniable that it itn- 



plies the greatest tribute to reason and justice. For this 
form of violence is none other than reason exasperated. 
Force was, in fact, the ultima ratio . Rather stupidly it 
has been the custom to take ironically this expression, 
which clearly indicates the previous submission of force 
to methods of reason. Civilisation is nothing else than the 
attempt to reduce force to being the ultima ratio. We are 
now beginning to realise this with startling clearness, be- 
cause “direct action 5 ' consists in inverting the order and 
proclaiming violence as printa ratio , or strictly as unica 
ratio. It is the norm which proposes the annulment of all 
norms, which suppresses all intermediate process between 
our purpose and its execution. It is the Magna Charta of 

ft is well to recall that at every epoch when the mass, 
for one purpose or another, has taken a part in public 
life, it has been in the form of “direct action.” This was, 
then, the natural modus operand} of the masses. And the 
thesis of this essay is strongly confirmed by the patent 
fact that at present when the overruling intervention in 
public life of the masses has passed from casual and infre- 
quent to being the normal, it is “direct action” which ap- 
pears officially as the recognized method. 

All our communal life is coming under this regime in 
which appeal to “indirect 51 authority is suppressed. In 
social relations “good manners 57 no longer hold sw f ay. 
Literature as “direct action” appears in the form of in- 
sult, The restrictions of sexual relations are reduced. 

Restrictions, standards, courtesy, indirect methods, 
justice, reason! Why were all these invented, why all these 
complications created? They are all summed up in the 
word civilisation, which, through the underlying notion 
of civis, the citizen, reveals its real origin. By means 
of all these there is an attempt to make possible the city, 
the community, common life. Hence, if we look into 


all these constituents of civilisation just enumerated, we 
shall find the same common basis* Ail, in fact, presuppose 
the radical progressive desire on the part of each in- 
dividual to take others into consideration. Civilisation is 
before all, the will to live in common, A man is uncivi- 
lised, barbarian in the degree in which he does not take 
others into account. Barbarism is the tendency to dis- 
association* Accordingly, all barbarous epochs have been 
times of human scattering, of the pullulation of tiny 
groups, separate from and hostile to one another. 

The political doctrine which has represented the lofti- 
est endeavour towards common life is liberal democracy. 
It carries to the extreme the determination to have con- 
sideration for one s neighbour and is the prototype of “in- 
direct action / 7 Liberalism is that principle of political 
rights, according to winch the public authority, in spite 
of being all-powerful, limits itself and attempts, even at its 
own expense, to leave room in the State over which it 
rules for those to live who neither think nor feel as it 
does, that is to say as do the stronger, the majority* Lib- 
eralism — it is well to recall this to-day— is the supreme 
form of generosity; it is the right which the majority con- 
cedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that 
has ever resounded in this planet. It announces the de- 
termination to share existence with the enemy; more 
than that, with an enemy which is weak. It w^as incredi- 
ble that the human species should have arrived at so noble 
an attitude, so paradoxical, so refined, so acrobatic, so anti- 
natural. Hence, it is not to be wondered at that this same 
humanity should soon appear anxious to get rid of it* 
It is a discipline too difficult and complex to take firm root 
on earth. 

Share our existence with the enemy! Govern w/ith the 
opposition! Is not such a form of tenderness beginning 
to seem incomprehensible? Nothing indicates more clearly 


the characteristics of the day than the fact that there are 
so few countries where an opposition exists. In almost all, 
a homogeneous mass weighs on public authority and 
crushes down, annihilates every opposing group. The 
mass— who would credit it as one sees its compact, mul- 
titudinous appearance?— does not wish to share life with 
those who are not of it. It has a deadly hatred of all that 
is not itself. 


The Primitive and the 

It is much to my purpose to recall that we are here en- 
gaged in the analysis of a situation — the actual one — - 
which Is of its essence ambiguous. Hence I suggested at 
the start that all the features of the present day, and in 
particular the rebellion of the masses, offer a double as- 
pect. Any one of them not only admits of, but requires, 
a double interpretation, favourable and unfavourable. And 
this ambiguity lies, not in our minds, but in the reality it- 
self* It is not that the present situation may appear to us 
good from one view-point, and evil from another, but 
that in itself it contains the twin potencies of triumph 
or of death. 

There is no call to burden this essay with a complete 
philosophy of history. But it is evident that I am basing it 
on the underlying foundation of my own philosophical 
convictions. I do not believe in the absolute determinism 
of history. On the contrary, I believe that all life, and con- 
sequently the life of history, is made up of simple mo- 
ments, each of them relatively undetermined in respect 
of the previous one, so that in it reality hesitates, walks 
up and down, and is uncertain whether to decide for one 
or other of various possibilities. It is this metaphysical 
hesitancy which gives to everything living its unmistak- 
able character of tremulous vibration. The rebellion of 


the masses may , in fact, be the transition to some new, un- 
exampled organisation of humanity, but it may also be 
a catastrophe of human destiny. There is no reason to 
deny the reality of progress, but there is to correct the 
notion that believes this progress secure. It is more in 
accordance with facts to hold that there is no certain 
progress, no evolution, without the threat of “involution/" 
of retrogression. Everything is possible in history; tri- 
umphant, indefinite progress equally with periodic retro- 
gression. For life, individual or collective, personal or his- 
toric, is the one entity in the universe whose substance is 
compact of danger, of adventure. It is, in the strict sense 
of the w ord, drama . 1 

Tills, w hich is true in general, acquires greater force in 
“moments of crisis” such as the present. And so, the 
symptoms of new conduct which are appearing under the 
actual dominion of the masses, and v/hich we have grouped 
under the term “direct action,” may also announce future 
perfections. It is evident that every old civilisation drags 
with it in its advance worn-out tissues and no small load 
of callous matter, which form an obstacle to life, mere 

1 Needless to say, hardly anyone will take seriously these expres- 
sions, and even the best-intention ed will understand them as mere 
metaphors, though perhaps striking ones. Only an odd reader, 
ingenuous enough not to believe that he already knows definitively 
what life is, or at least what k is not, will allow himself to be 
won over by the primary meaning of these phrases, and will be 
precisely the one who will understand them — be they true or 
false. Amongst the rest there will reign the most effusive unanim- 
ity, with this solitary difference: some will think that, speaking 
seriously i life is the process of existence of a soul, and others that 
it is a succession of chemical reactions. 1 do not conceive that k 
will improve my position with readers so hermetically sealed to 
resume my whole line of thought by saying that the primary t 
radical meaning of life appears when it is employed in the sense 
not of biology, but of biography. For the very strong reason that 
the whole of biology is quite definitely only a chapter in certain 
biograpliies, it is what biologists do in the portion of their lives 
open to biography. Anything else is abstraction, fantasy and myth. 


toxic dregs. There are dead institutions, valuations and 
estimates which still survive, though now meaningless, un- 
necessarily complicated solutions, standards whose lack 
of substance has been proved. All these constituents of 
* ‘indirect action;’ of civilisation, demand a period of fe- 
verish simplification. The tall hat and frock-coat of the 
romantic period are avenged by means of present-day 
deshabille and “shirt-sleeves*” Here, the simplification 
means hygiene and better taste, consequently a more per- 
fect solution, as always happens when more is obtained 
by smaller means. The tree of romantic love also was 
badly in need of priming in order to shed the abundance 
of imitation magnolias tacked on to its branches and the 
riot of creepers, spirals, and tortuous ramifications w hich 
deprived it of the sun. 

In general, public life and above all politics, urgently 
needed to be brought back to reality, and European hu- 
manity could not turn the somersault which the optimist 
demands of it, without first taking off its clothes, getting 
down to its bare essence, returning to its real self, The 
enthusiasm which I fed for this discipline of stripping 
oneself bare, of being one's real self, the belief that it 
is indispensable in order to clear the way to a worthy 
future, leads me to claim full liberty of thought with 
regard to every tiling in the past. It is the future w^hich 
must prevail over the past, and from it we take our or- 
ders regarding our attitude towards w hat has been , 1 

‘This freedom of attitude towards the past is not, then, a peevish 
revolt, but, on the contrary, an evident obligation, on the part of 
every “period of criticism If I defend the liberalism of the 
XiXth Century against the masses which rudely attack it, this 
does not mean that I renounce my full freedom of opinion as 
regards that same liberalism. And vice versa, the primitivism which 
in this essay appears in its worst aspect is in a certain sense a 
condition of every great historic advance. Compare what, a few 
years ago, 1 said on this matter in the essay “Biologia y Pedagogia*' 
{El EspectifdaTj III, La pat ado ja del salvajimio) . 


But it is necessary to avoid the great sin of those who 
directed the XIXth Century, the lack of recognition of 
their responsibilities which prevented them from keeping 
alert and on the watch. To let oneself slide down the easy 
slope offered by the course of events and to dull one’s 
mind against the extent of the danger, the unpleasant 
features w T hich characterise even the most joyous hour, 
that is precisely to fail in one's obligation of responsibility. 
To-day it has become necessary to stir up an exaggerated 
sense of responsibility in those capable of feeling it, and 
it seems of supreme urgency to stress the evidently danger- 
ous aspect of present-day symptoms, 

There is no doubt that on striking a balance of our 
public life the adverse factors far outweigh the favour- 
able ones, if the calculation be made not so much in re- 
gard to the present, as to what they announce and prom- 
ise for the future. 

All the increased material possibilities which life has 
experienced run the risk of being annulled when they arc 
faced with the staggering problem that has come upon 
the destiny of Europe, and which I once more formulate: 
the direction of society has been taken over by a type of 
man who is not interested in the principles of civilisation. 
Not of this or that civilisation but— from what we can 
judge to-day— of any civilisation. Of course, he is inter- 
ested in anesthetics, motor-cars, and a few other things. 
But this fact merely confirms his fundamental lack of 
interest in civilisation. For those things are merely its 
products, and the fervour with which he greets them 
only brings into stronger relief his indifference to the 
principles from which they spring. It is sufficient to 
bring forward this fact: since the nuove scienze t the natu- 
ral sciences, came into being — from the Renaissance on, 
that is to say — the enthusiasm for them had gone on in- 
creasing through the course of time. To put it more 


concretely, the proportionate number of people who de- 
voted themselves to pure scientific research was in each 
generation greater. The first case of retrogression— rela- 
tive, I repeat — has occurred in the generation of those 
between twenty and thirty at the present time. It is be- 
coming difficult to attract students to the laboratories of 
pure science. And this is happening when industry is 
reaching its highest stage of development, and when peo- 
ple in general are showing still greater appetite for the 
use of the apparatus and the medicines created by sci- 
ence, If we did not wish to avoid prolixity, similar in- 
congruity could be shown in politics, arr, morals, religion, 
and in the everyday activities of life. 

What is the significance to us of so paradoxical a situa- 
tion? This essay is an attempt to prepare the answer to 
that question. The meaning is that the type of man dom- 
inant to-day is a primitive one, a Naturmensch rising 
up in the midst of a civilised world. The world is a civi- 
lised one, its inhabitant is not: he does not see the civili- 
sation of the world around him, but he uses it as if it 
were a natural force. The new man wants his motor-car, 
and enjoys it, but he believes that it is the spontaneous 
fruit of an Edenic tree. In the depths of his soul he is 
unaware of the artificial, almost incredible, character of 
civilisation, and does not extend his enthusiasm for the 
instruments to the principles which make them possible. 
When some pages back, by a transposition of the words 
of Rathenau, I said that we are witnessing the “vertical 
invasion of the barbarians” it might be thought (it gen- 
erally is) that it was only a matter of a “phrase,” It is 
now clear that the expression may enshrine a truth or 
an error, but that it is the very opposite of a “phrase,” 
namely; a formal definition which sums up a whole com- 
plicated analysis. The actual mass-man is, in fact, a primi- 
tive who has slipped through the wings on to the age-old 
stage of civilisation. 



There is continual talk to-day of the fabulous progress 
of technical knowledge; but I see no signs in this talk, | 
even amongst the best, of a sufficiently dramatic realisa- 
tion of its future* Spengler himself, so subtle and pro- 
found — though so subject to mania — appears to me in 
this matter far too optimistic, For he believes that “cul- 
ture” is to be succeeded by an era of “civilisation,” by 
which word lie understands more especially technical 
efficiency. The idea that Spengler has of “culture” and 
of history in general is so remote from that underlying 
this essay, that it is not easy, even for the purpose of cor- 
rection, to comment here upon his conclusions. It is only 
by taking great leaps and neglecting exact details, in 
order to bring both view-points under a common de- 
nominator, that it is possible to indicate the difference 
between us. Spengler believes that “technicism” can go 
on living when interest in the principles underlying cul- 
ture are dead* I cannot bring myself to believe any such 
thing, 1 echnieism and science are consubstantial, and 
science no longer exists when it ceases to interest for it- 
self alone, and it cannot so interest unless men continue 
to feel enthusiasm for the general principles of culture. 
If this fervour is deadened— as appears to be happening 
— technjcism can only survive for a time, for the duration 
of the inertia of the cultural impulse which started it* We 
live with our technical requirements, but not by them. 
These give neither nourishment nor breath to themselves, 
they are not causae sui , but a useful, practical precipitate 
of superfluous, unpractical activities, 5 I proceed, then, to 
the position that the actual interest in technical accom- 
plishment guarantees nothing, less than nothing, for the 
progress or the duration of such accomplishment. It is 

1 Hence, to my mind, a definition of North America by its “tech- 
nicism” tells u$ nothing* One of the things that most seriously con- 
fuse the European mind is the mass of puerile judgments that one 
hears pronounced on North America even by the most cultured 

84 the revolt of the masses 

quite right that technicism should be considered one of 
the characteristic features of “modern culture , 17 that is to 
say, of a culture which comprises a species of science 
which proves materially profitable. Hence, when describ- 
ing the newest aspect of the existence implanted by the 
XIXth Century, I was left with these two features: liberal 
democracy and technicism. But I repeat that I am aston- 
ished at the ease with which w hen speaking of technicism 
it is forgotten that its vital centre is pure science, and that 
the conditions for its continuance involve the same con- 
ditions that render possible pure scientific activity. Has 
any thought been given to the number of things that must 
remain active in men's souls in order that there may still 
continue to be “men of science 71 in real truth? Is it seri- 
ously thought that as long as there are dollars there will 
be science? This notion in which so many find rest is only 
a further proof of primitivism. As if there were not num- 
berless ingredients, of most disparate nature, to be brought 
together and shaken up in order to obtain the cocktail 
of physico-chemical science! Under even the most per- 
functory examination of this subject, the evident fact 
bursts into view that over the wdiole extent of space and 
time, physico-chemistry has succeeded in establishing it- 
self completely only in the small quadrilateral enclosed 
by London, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, and that only in 
the XIXth Century. This proves that experimental sci- 
ence is one of the most unlikely products of history. Seers, 
priests, warriors and shepherds have abounded in all times 
and places* But this fauna of experimental man appar- 
ently requires for its production a combination of cir- 
cumstances more exceptional than those that engender 
the unicorn. Such a bare, sober fact should make us re- 

persons* This is one particular case of the disproportion which I 
indicate later on as existing between the complexity of present- 
day problems and the capacity of present-day minds. 


fleet a little on the super volatile, evaporative character of 
scientific inspiration . 1 Blissful the man who believes that, 
were Europe to disappear, the North Americans could 
continue science! It would be of great value to treat the 
matter thoroughly and to specify in detail what arc the 
historical presuppositions, vita! to experimental science 
and, consequently, to technical accomplishment. But let 
no one hope that, even when this point was made clear, 
the mass-man would understand. The mass- man has no 
attention to spare for reasoning, he learns only in his own 

There is one observation which bars me from deceiv- 
ing myself as to the efficacy of such preachments, which 
by the fact of being based on reason would necessarily 
be subtle. Is it not altogether absurd that, under actual 
circumstances, the average man does not feel spontane- 
ously, and without being preached at, an ardent enthu- 
siasm for those sciences and the related ones of biology? 
For, just consider what the actual situation is- While evi- 
dently all the other constituents of culture — politics, art, 
social standards, morality itself — have become problem- 
atic, there is one which increasingly demonstrates, in a 
manner most indisputable and most suitable to impress the 
mass-man, its marvellous efficiency: and that one is em- 
pirical science. Every day furnishes a new invention 
which this average man utilises. Every day produces a 
new anesthetic or vaccine from winch this average man 
benefits. Everyone knows that, if scientific inspiration 
does not weaken and the laboratories are multiplied three 
times or ten times, there will be an automatic multiplica- 
tion of wealth, comfort, health, prosperity. Can any more 

1 This, without speaking of more Internal questions. The majority 
of the investigators themselves have not to-day the slightest sus- 
picion of the very grave and dangerous internal crisis through 
which their science is passing. 


formidable, more convincing propaganda be imagined in 
favour of a vital principle? How is it, nevertheless, that 
there is no sign of the masses imposing on themselves any 
sacrifice of money or attention in order to endow science 
more worthily? Far from this being the case, the post-war 
period has converted the man of science into a new so- 
cial pariah. And note that I am referring to physicists, 
chemists, biologists, not to pliilosophers. Philosophy needs 
neither protection, attention nor sympathy from the 
masses. It maintains its character of complete inutility , 1 
and thereby frees itself from all subservience to the av- 
erage man. It recognises itself as essentially problematic* 
and joyously accepts its free destiny as a bird of the air* 
without asking anybody to take it into account, without 
recommending or defending itself. If it does really turn 
out to the advantage of anyone, it rejoices from simple 
human sympathy; but does not live on the profit it brings 
to others, neither anticipating it nor hoping for It. How 
can it lay claim to being taken seriously by anyone if it 
starts off by doubting its own existence, if it lives only in 
the measure in which it combats itself, deprives itself of 
life? Let us* then* leave out of the question philosophy, 
which is an adventure of another order. But the experi- 
mental sciences do need the cooperation of the mass-man, 
just as he needs them* under pain of dissolution, inasmuch 
as in a planet without physico -chemistry the number of 
beings existing to-day cannot be sustained* 

What arguments can bring about something which has 
not been brought about by the motor-car in which those 
men come and go, and the pantopon injection which de- 
stroys, miraculously ? their pains? The disproportion be- 
tween the constant, evident benefit which science pro- 
cures them and the interest they show in it is such that 
it is impossible to-day to deceive oneself with illusory 

'Aristotle, Metaphysics S93 a. to. 


hopes and to expect anything but barbarism from those 
who so behave. Especially if, as we shall see , this disre- 
gard of science as such appears, with possibly more evi- 
dence than elsewhere > in the mass of technicians them- 
selves — doctors, engineers , etc ,, who are in the habit of 
exercising their profession in a state of mind identical 
in alt essentials to that of the man who is content to use 
his motor-car or buy his tube of aspirin — without the 
slightest intimate solidarity with the future of science, of 

There may be those who fed more disturbed by other 
symptoms of emergent barbarism which, being positive 
in quality, results of action and not of omission, strike the 
attention more, materialise into a spectacle. For myself, 
this matter of the disproportion between the profit which 
the average man drawls from science and the gratitude 
which he returns — or, rather, does not return — to it; this 
is much more terrifying . 1 I can only succeed in explain- 
ing to myself this absence of adequate recognition by re- 
calling that in Central Africa the negroes also ride in 
motor-cars and dose themselves with aspirin. The Eu- 
ropean who is beginning to predominate — so runs my 
hypothesis — must then be, in relation to the complex 
civilisation into which he has been bom , a primitive man, 
a barbarian appearing on the stage through the trap-door, 
a "vertical invader*” 

l The monstrosity is increased a hundredfold by the fact that, as 
I have indicated, all the other vital principles, politics, law, art, 
morals, religion, are actually passing through a crisis, are at least 
temporarily bankrupt. Science alone is not bankrupt; rather docs 
it every day pay out, with fabulous interest, all and more than it 
promises. It is, then, without a competitor; it is impossible to ex- 
cuse the average man’s disregard of it by considering him dis- 
tracted from it by some other cultural enthusiasm. 


Primitivism and History 

Nature is always with us. It is self-supporting. In the 
forests of Nature we can be savages with impunity. We 
can likewise resolve never to cease being so, without 
further risk than the coming of other peoples who are 
not savages. But, in principle, it is possible to have peoples 
who are perennially primitive, Breyssig has called these 
“the peoples of perpetual dawn,” those who have re- 
mained in a motionless, frozen twilight, which never 
progresses towards midday. 

This is what happens in the world which is mere Na- 
ture. But it does not happen in the world of civilisation 
which is ours. Gvllisation is not “just there,” it is not self- 
supporting, It is artificial and requires the artist or the 
artisan. If you want to make use of the advantages of 
civilisation, but are not prepared to concern yourself 
with the upholding of civilisation — you are done. In a 
trice you find yourself left without civilisation. Just a slip, 
and when you look around everything has vanished into 
air. The primitive forest appears in its native state, just as 
if curtains covering pure Nature had been drawn back. 
The jungle is always primitive and, vice versa, everything 
primitive is mere jungle. 

The romantics of every period have been excited by 
those scenes of violation, in which the natural and infra- 
human assaults the white form of woman, and they have 
depicted Leda and the swan, Pasiphae and the bull. An- 
ti ope and the goat. Generalising the picture, they have 


found a more subtly indecent spectacle in the landscape 
with ruins, where the civilised, geometric stone is stifled 
beneath the embrace of wild vegetation. When your good 
romantic catches sight of a building, the first thing his 
eyes seek is the yellow hedge-mustard on cornice and 
roof. This proclaims, that in the long run, everything is 
earth, that the jungle springs up everywhere anew. It 
would be stupid to laugh at the romantic. The romantic 
also ts in the right. Under these innocently perverse 
images there lies an immense, ever-present problem; that 
of the relations hetween civilisation and what lies behind 
it — Nature, between the rational and the cosmic. I re- 
serve, then, the right to deal with this subject on another 
occasion and to be a romantic myself at an opportune 

But just now I am engaged in a contrary task. It is a 
question of keeping back the invading jungle. The “good 
European" must at present busy himself with something 
similar to what caused grave concern to the Australian 
states: how to prevent the prickly-pear from gaining 
ground and driving man into the sea. Some time in the 
forties a Mediterranean emigrant, homesick for his na- 
tive scenery— Malaga, Sicily?— took with him to Aus- 
tralia a pot with a wretched little prickiy-pear. To-day 
the Australian budgets are weighed down with the bur- 
den of charges for the war against the prickly-pear, which 
has invaded the continent and each year advances over a 
square kilometre of ground. 

The mass-man believes that the civilisation into which 
he was bom and w hich he makes use of, is as spontane- 
ous and self-producing as Nature, and ipso facto he is 
changed into primitive man. For him, civilisation Is the 
forest. This I have said before; now l have to treat it in 
more detail. 

The principles on which the civilised world— which has 



to be maintained— is based, simply do not exist for the 
average man of to-day. He has no interest in the basic 
cultural values, no solidarity with them, is not prepared 
to place himself at their service. How has this come about? 
For many reasons, but for the moment I am only going 
to stress one. Civilisation becomes more complex and 
difficult in proportion as it advances. The problems which 
it sets before us to-day are of the most intricate. The 
number of people whose minds are equal to these prob- 
lems becomes increasingly smaller. The post-war period 
offers us a striking example of this. The reconstruction 
of Europe- — as we are seeing — is an affair altogether too 
algebraical, and the ordinary European is showing him- 
self below this high enterprise. It is not that means are 
lacking for the solution, What are lacking are heads. Or, 
rather, there are some heads, very few, but the average 
mass of Central Europe is unwilling to place them on its 

This disproportion between the complex subtlety of the 
problems and the minds that should study them will be- 
come greater if a remedy be not found, and it consti- 
tutes the basic tragedy of our civilisation. By reason of 
the very fertility and certainty of its formative princi- 
ples, its production increases in quantity and in subtlety, 
so as to exceed the receptive powers of normal man, I 
do nor think that this has ever happened in the past. All 
previous civilisations have died through the insufficiency 
of their underlying principles, 1 hat of Europe is begin- 
ning to succumb for the opposite reason. In Greece and 
Rome it was not man that failed, but principles. The Ro- 
man Empire came to an end for lack of technique. When 
it reached a high level of population, and this vast com- 
munity demanded the solution of certain material prob- 
lems which technique only could furnish, the ancient 


world starred on a process of involution, retrogression, 
and decay. 

But to-day it is man who is the failure, because he is 
unable to keep pace with the progress of his own civili- 
sation, It is painful to hear relatively cultured people 
speak concerning the most elementary problems of the 
day. They seem like rough farmhands trying with thick, 
clumsy fingers to pick up a needle lying on a table. Po- 
litical and social subjects, for example, are handled with 
the same rude instruments of thought which served two 
hundred years since to tackle situations in effect two hun- 
dred times less complex. 

Advanced civilisation h one and the same tiling as ar- 
duous problems. Hence, the greater the progress, the 
greater danger it is in. Life gets gradually better, but 
evidently also gradually more complicated. Of course, as 
problems become more complex, the means of solving 
them also become more perfect. But each new genera- 
tion must master these perfected means. Amongst them 
— to come to the concrete — there is one most plainly at- 
tached to the advance of a civilisation, namely, that it 
have a great deal of the past at its back, a great deal of 
experience; in a word: history. Historical knowledge is a 
technique of the first order to preserve and continue a 
civilisation already advanced. Not that it affords positive 
solutions to the new aspect of vital conditions — life is 
always different from what it was — but that it prevents 
us committing the ingenuous mistakes of other times. 
But if, in addition to being old and, therefore, beginning 
to find life difficult, you have lost the memory of the past, 
and do not profit by experience, then everything turns to 
disadvantage. Well, it is my belief that this is the situation 
of Europe, The most “cultured” people to-day are suffer- 
ing from incredible ignorance of history. I maintain that 


at the present day, European leaders know much less 
history than their fellows of the XVlIlth T even of the 
XVIIth Century, That historical knowledge of the gov- 
erning minorities— governing sensu law — made possible 
the prodigious advance of the XlXth Century. Their pol- 
icy was thought out — by the XVIlIth Century — precisely 
in order to avoid the errors of previous politics, thought 
out in view of those errors and embraced in its substance 
the whole extent of experience. But the XlXth Century 
already began to lose "historic culture , 1 5 although during 
the century the specialists gave it notable advance as a 
science . 1 To this neglect is due in great part its peculiar 
errors, which to-day press upon us. In the last third of the 
century there began — though hidden from sight — that 
involution, that retrogression towards barbarism, that is, 
towards the ingenuousness and primitivism of the man 
who has no past, or who has forgotten it. 

Hence, Bolshevism and Fascism, the two "new” at- 
tempts in politics that are being made in Europe and on 
its borders, are two dear examples of essential retrogres- 
sion. Not so much by the positive content of their doc- 
trine, which, taken in isolation, naturally has its partial 
truth — what is there in the universe which has not some 
particle of truth?- — as on account of the imri-historlc, 
anachronistic way m which they handle the rational ele- 
ments which the doctrine contains. Typical movements 
of mass-men, directed, as all such are, by men who are 
mediocrities, improvised, devoid of a long memory and 
a "historic conscience,” they behave from the start as if 
they already belonged to the past, as if, though occurring 
at the present hour, they were really fauna of a past age. 

It is not a question of being, or not being, a Com- 

1 Here we catch a glimpse of the difference we shall shortly have 
to treat of between the state of the sciences during a given "period 
and the state of its culture. 


munis c or a Bolshevist, I am not discussing the creed. 
What is inconceivable and anachronistic is that a Com- 
munist of 1917 should launch out into a revolution which 
is identical in form with all those which have gone be- 
fore, and in which there is not the slightest amend- 
ment of the defects and errors of its predecessors* Hence, 
what has happened in Russia possesses no historic inter- 
est, it is, strictly speaking, anything but a new start in 
human life. On the contrary, it is a monotonous repeti- 
tion of the eternal revolution, it is the perfect common- 
place of revolutions. To such an extent, that there is not 
one stock-phrase of the many that human experience has 
produced regarding revolutions wliich does not receive 
distressful confirmation when applied to this one. "Revo- 
lution devours its own children. 1 ’ "Revolution starts from 
a moderate party, proceeds to the extremists, and soon 
begins to fall back on some form of restoration,’* etc., etc* 
To these venerable commonplaces might be added other 
truths less wef] known, though no less probable, amongst 
them this one: a revolution does not last more than fifteen 
years, the period which coincides with the flourishing of 
a generation. 1 

Whoever aspires to create a new social or political 
reality must before all concern himself to ensure that 
these humble commonplaces of historical experience will 

1 A generation lasts about thirty years* But it? activity divides 
into two stages and takes two forms: during approximately one 
half, the new generation carries out the propaganda of its ideas, 
preferences, and tastes, which finally arrive at power and are 
dominant in the second half or its course. But the generation edu- 
cated under its sway is already bringing forward other ideas, 
preferences, and tastes, which it begins to diffuse in the general 
atmosphere. When the ideas, preferences, and tastes of die ruling 
generation are extremist, and therefore revolutionary, those of the 
new generation are anti -extremist and anti-revolutionary, that b 
to say, substantially restorationist in spirit* Of course, by restora- 
tionist is not to be understood a simple "return to the old ways” 
a thing which restorations have never been. 

94 the revolt of the masses 

be invalidated by the situation which he brings into be- 
ing. For my part, I shall reserve the title of “man of 
genius' 5 for the politician who has hardly begun his op- 
erations when the professors of history in our colleges 
begin to go mad, as they see all the “laws” of their sci- 
ence interrupted in their action, falling to pieces, reduced 
to dust, 

Ey changing the sign proper to Bolshevism, we might 
make similar statements in regard to Fascism. Neither of 
these experiments is “at the height of our time." They do 
not represent the whole of the past in foreshortening, a 
condition which is essential in order to improve on that 
past. The struggle with the past is not a hand-to-hand 
fight* The future overcomes it by swallowing it. If it 
leaves anything outside it is lost. 

Both Bolshevism and Fascism are two false dawns; they 
do not bring the morning of a new day, but of some 
archaic day, spent over and over again: they are mere 
primitivism. And such will all movements be which fall 
into the stupidity of starting a boxing-match with some 
portion or other of the past, instead of proceeding to 
digest it. No doubt an advance must be made on the 
liberalism of the XIXth Century. But this is precisely 
what cannot be done by any movement such as Fascism, 
which declares itself anti-liberal. Because it was that fact 
— the being anti-liberal or non-liberal — which constituted 
man previous to liberalism. And as the latter triumphed 
over its opposite, it will either repeat its victory rime and 
again, or else everything — 'liberalism and anti- liberalism 
— will be annihilated in the destruction of Europe. There 
is an inexorable chronology of life. In it liberalism is pos- 
terior to anti-liberalism, or what comes to the same, is 
more vital than it, just as the gun is more of a weapon 
than the lance. 

At first sight, an attitude “ant i-anv thing” seems pos- 


tenor to this thing, inasmuch as it signifies a reaction 
against it and supposes its previous existence. But the in- 
novation which the anti represents fades away into an 
empty negative attitude, leaving as its only positive con- 
tent an “antique / 5 When his attitude is translated into 
positive language, the man who declares himself anti- 
Petcr does nothing more than declare himself the up- 
holder of a world where Peter is non-existent. But that is 
exactly what happened to the world before Peter was 
born, he anti-Petcrke, instead of placing himself after 
Peter, makes himself previous to him and reverses the 
whole film to the situation of the past, at the end of which 
the re-apparition of Peter is inevitable. The same thing 
happens to these antis as, according to the legend, hap- 
pened to Confucius. He was bom, naturally, after his 
father, but he was born at the age of eighty, while his 
progenitor was only thirty! Every anti is nothing more 
than a simple, empty No, 

This would be all very nice and fine if with a good, 
round No we could annihilate the past. But the past is of 
its essence a revenant. If put out, it comes back, inevitably. 
Hence, the only way to separate from it is not to put it 
out, but to accept its existence, and so to behave in regard 
to it as to dodge it, to avoid it. In a word, to live “at the 
height of our time, n w'ith an exaggerated consciousness of 
the historical circumstances. 

The past has reason on its side, its own reason. If that 
reason is not admitted, it will return to demand it. Liberal- 
ism had its reason, which will have to be admitted per 
sae citia saeculorum . But it had not the whole of reason, 
and it is that part which was not reason that must be 
taken from it. Europe needs to preserve its essential liberal- 
ism. This is the condition for superseding it. 

If I have spoken here of Fascism and Bolshevism it has 
been only indirectly, considering merely their aspect as 


anachronisms. This aspect is, to my mind, inseparable 
from all that is apparently triumphant to-day. For to- 
day it is the mass-man who triumphs, and consequently, 
only those designs inspired by him, saturated with his 
primitive style, can enjoy an apparent victory. But apart 
from this, 1 am not at present discussing the true inward- 
ness of one or the other, just as I am not attempting to 
solve the eternal dilemma of revolution and evolution. 
The most that this essay dares to demand is that the revolu- 
tion or the evolution be historical and not anachronistic. 

The theme I am pursuing in these pages is politically 
neutral, because it breathes an air much ampler than that 
of politics and its dissensions. Conservative and Radical 
are none the less mass, and the difference between them 
—-which at every period has been very superficial— docs 
not in the least prevent them both being one and the 
same man— the common man in rebellion. 

There is no hope for Europe unless its destiny is placed 
in the hands of men really “contemporaneous,” men who 
feel palpitating beneath them the whole subsoil of his- 
tory, who realise the present level of existence, and abhor 
every archaic and primitive attitude. We have need of 
history in its entirety, not to fall back into it, but to see if 
we can escape from it. 


The Self-Satisfied Age 

To resume; the new social fact here analysed is this: Eu- 
ropean history reveals itself T for the first time, as handed 
over to the decisions of the ordinary man as such. Or to 
turn it into the active voice: the ordinary man, hitherto 
guided by others, has resolved to govern the world him- 
self* This decision to advance to the social foreground has 
been brought about m him automatically, when the new 
type of man he represents had barely arrived at maturity* 
If from the view-point of what concerns public life, the 
psychological structure of this new type of mass- man be 
studied, what we find is as follows: ( i ) An inborn, root- 
impression that life is easy, plentiful, without any grave 
limitations; consequently, each average man finds within 
himself a sensation of power and triumph which, (2) in- 
vites him to stand up for himself as he is, to look upon 
his moral and intellectual endowment as excellent, com- 
plete. This contentment with himself leads him to shut 
himself off from any external court of appeal; not to 
listen, not to submit his opinions to judgment, not to con- 
sider others' existence* His intimate feeling of power 
urges him always to exercise predominance. He will act 
then as if he and his like w r ere the only beings existing in 
the world; and, consequently, (3) will intervene in all 
matters, imposing his own vulgar views without respect 
or regard for others, without limit or reserve, that is to 
say, in accordance with a system of “direct action*” 

It was this series of aspects which made us think of 




certain defective types of humanity, such as the spoiled 
child, and the primitive in revolt, that is, the barbarian. 
{The normal primitive, on the other hand, is the most sub- 
missive to external authority ever known, be it religion, 
taboo, social tradition, or customs,) There is no need to 
be surprised at my heaping up hard names against this 
type of human being, This present essay is nothing more 
than a preliminary skirmish against this triumphant man, 
and the announcement that a certain number of Euro- 
peans are about to turn energetically against his attempt 
to tyrannise. For the moment it is only a first skirmish, the 
frontal attack will come later, perhaps very soon, and in 
a very different form from that adopted by this essay. 
The frontal attack must come in such a way that the mass- 
man cannot take precautions against it; he will see it be* 
fore him and will not suspect that it precisely is the frontal 

This type which at present is to be found everywhere, 
and everywhere imposes his own spiritual barbarism, is, 
in fact, the spoiled child of human history. The spoiled 
child is the heir who behaves exclusively as a mere heir. 
In this case the inheritance is civilisation— with its con- 
veniences, its security; in a word, with all its advantages. 
As we have seen, it is only in circumstances of easy ex- 
istence such as our civilisation has produced, that a type 
can arise, marked by such a collection of features, in- 
spired by such a character. It is one of a number of 
deformities produced by luxury in human material. There 
might be a deceptive tendency to believe that a life born 
into a world of plenty should be better, more really a 
life than one which consists in a struggle against scarcity* 
Such is not the case, for reasons of the strictest and most 
fundamental nature, which this is not the place to enlarge 
upon. For the present, instead of those reasons, it is suf- 
ficient to recall the ever-recurrenc fact w hich constitutes 



the tragedy of every hereditary aristocracy. The aristo- 
crat inherits, that is to say, he finds attributed to lus per- 
son, conditions of life which he has not created, and 
which, therefore, are not produced in organic union with 
his personal, individual existence. At birth he finds him- 
self installed, suddenly and without knowing how, in the 
midst of his riches and his prerogatives. In his own self, 
he has nothing to do with them, because they do not 
come from him.They are the giant armour of some other 
person, some other human being, his ancestor. And he 
has to live as an heir, that is to say, he has to wear the 
trappings of another existence. What does this bring us 
to? What life is the “aristocrat” by inheritance going to 
lead, his own or that of his first noble ancestor? Neither 
one nor the other. He is condemned to represent the 
other man, consequently, to be neither that other nor 
himself. Inevitably his life loses all authenticity", and is 
transformed into pure representation or fiction of an- 
other life. The abundance of resources that he is obliged 
to make use of gives him no chance to live out his own 
personal destiny, his life is atrophied. All life is the strug- 
gle, the effort to be itself . The difficulties which I meet 
with in order to realise my existence are precisely what 
a weaken and mobilise my activities, my capacities. If my 
body was not a weight to me, 1 should not be able to 
walk. If the atmosphere did not press on me, I should 
feel my body as something vague, flabby, unsubstantial. 
So in the “aristocratic” heir his whole individuality grows 
vague, for lack of use and vital effort. The result is that 
specific stupidity of “our old nobility” which is unlike 
anything else — a stupidity which, strictly speaking, has 
never yet been described in its intimate, tragic mechanism 
— that tragic mechanism which leads all hereditary aris- 
tocracy to irremediable degeneration. 

So much merely to counteract our ingenuous tendency 


the revolt of the masses 

to believe that a super abundance of resources favours 
existence. Quite the contrary. A world superabundant 1 
in possibilities automatically produces deformities, vicious 
types of human life* which may be brought under the 
general class, the “heir-man,” of which the “aristocrat” is 
only one particular case* the spoiled child another* and 
the mass-man of our time* more fully, more radically* a 
third. (It w j ould, moreover* be possible to make more 
detailed use of this last allusion to the “aristocrat*” by 
showing how many of his characteristic traits, in all times 
and among all peoples, germinate in the mass-man. For 
example: his propensity to make out of games and sports 
the central occupation of his life; the cult of the body — 
hygienic regime and attention to dress; lack of romance 
in his dealings with woman; his amusing himself with 
the “intellectual,” while at bottom despising him and at 
times ordering his flunkeys or his bravoes to chastise 
him; his preference for living under an absolute author- 
ity rather than under a regime of free- discussion * 2 etc.) 

‘The increase* and even tlie abundance, of resources arc not to 
be confused with the excess. In the XIXth Century the facilities 
of life increase, and this produces the amazing growth — quantita- 
tive and qualitative— of life that I have noted above. But a moment 
has come when the civilised world, in relation to the capacity 
of the average man, has taken on an appearance of superabun- 
dance, of excess of riches, of superfluity. A single example of this: 
the security seemingly offered by progress (i.e. the ever-growing 
increase of vital advantages) demoralised the average man, inspir- 
ing him with a confidence which is false, vicious, and atrophying. 
fl In this, as in other matters, the English aristocracy seems to be 
an exception to what we have said. But though the case is an 
admirable one, it would suffice to indicate in oudine the history 
of England in order to show that this exception proves the rule. 
Contrary to what is usually said, die English nobility has been 
the least a superabundant 1+ of Europe, and has lived in more con- 
stant danger than any other. And because it has always lived in 
danger, it has succeeded in winning respect for itself — which im- 
plies that it has ceaselessly remained in the breach. The funda- 
mental fact is forgotten tnst England was until well on into the 
XVIlIth Century the poorest country m Western Europe. It was 

the self-satisfied age 


I persist then* at the risk of boring the reader* in mak- 
ing the point that this man full of uncivilised tendencies* 
this newest of the barbarians, is an automatic product of 
modern civilisation, especially of the form taken by this 
civilisation in the XIXth Century. He has not burst in on 
the civilised world from outside like the "great white 
barbarians” of the Vth Century; neither has he been pro- 
duced within it by spontaneous, mysterious generation, 
as Aristotle says of the tadpoles in the pond; he is its natu- 
ral fruit. One may formulate, as follows, a law confirmed 
by palaeontology and bio-geography: human life has 
arisen and progressed only when the resources it could 
count on were balanced by the problems it met with. 
This is true* as much in the spiritual order as in the physi- 
cal Thus* to refer to a very concrete aspect of corporal 
existence, I may recall that the human species has flour- 
ished in zones of our planet where the hot season is com- 
pensated by a season of intense cold. In the tropics the 
animal-man degenerates, and vice versa, inferior races — 
the pygmies, for example — have been pushed back towards 
the tropics by races born after them and superior in the 
scale of evolution. * 1 

The civilisation of the XIXth Century is, then, of such 
a character that it allows the average man to take his 
place in a world of superabundance, of which he per- 
ceives only the lavishness of the means at his disposal, 
nothing of the pains involved. He finds himself sur- 
rounded by marvellous instruments, healing medicines, 
watchful governments, comfortable privileges. On the 

this face chat saved the nobility. Not being abundant in resources, 
it had very early to enter into commercial and industrial occupa- 
tions — considered ignoble on the Continent — that is to say, it 
decided very soon to lead an economic existence creative in 
character, and not to depend solely on its privileges. 

1 See Olbricht, Klhna tmd Enrwickluwg) Tpjj. 


other hand, he is ignorant how difficult it is to invent 
those medicines and those instruments and to assure their 
production in the future } he does not realise how un- 
stable is the organisation of the State and is scarcely con- 
scious to himself of any obligations. This lack of balance 
falsifies his nature* vitiates it in its very roots, causing 
him to lose contact with the very substance of life, which 
is made up of absolute danger, is radically problematic. 
The form most contradictory to human life that can ap- 
pear among the human species is the self-satisfied man,” 
Consequently, when he becomes the predominant type, 
it is time to raise the alarm and to announce that hu- 
manity is threatened with degeneration, that is, with 
relative death. On this view, the vital level represented by 
Europe at the present day is superior to the whole of the 
human past, but if we look to the future, we are made to 
fear that it will neither preserve the level reached nor at- 
tain to a higher one, but rather will recede and fall back 
upon lower heights. 

This, I think, brings out with sufficient clearness the 
superlative abnormality represented by the “self-satisfied 
man.” He is a man who has entered upon life to do “what 
he jolly well likes.” This, in fact, is the illusion suffered 
by the fils de f ami lie. We know the reason why: in the 
family circle, everything, even the greatest faults, are in 
the long run left unpunished. The family circle is rela- 
tively artificial, and tolerates many acts which in society, 
in the world outside, would automatically involve disas- 
trous consequences for their author, But the man of this 
type thinks that he can behave outside just as he does at 
home; believes that nothing is fatal, irremediable, irrev- 
ocable. That is why he thinks that he can do what he 
likes . 1 An almighty mistake! “You will go where you are 

1 What the home is in relation to society, such on a larger scale h 
one nation before the assemblage of nations. One of the manifesta- 



token to," as the parrot is told in the Portuguese story. It 
is not that one ought not to do just what one pleases; it is 
simply that one cannot do other than what each of us has 
to do, has to be. The only way out is to refuse to do what 
has to be done, but this docs not set us free to do something 
else just because it pleases us. In this matter we only possess 
a negative freedom of will, a noluntas. We can quite well 
turn away from our true destiny, but only to fall a pris- 
oner in the deeper dungeons of our destiny* I cannot make 
this clear to each of my readers in what concerns his indi- 
vidual destiny as such, because I do not know each of my 
readers; but it is possible to make it clear in those portions, 
those facets, of his destiny which are identical with those 
of others* For example, every present-day European 
knows, with a certainty much more forcible than that of 
all bis expressed “ideas” and “opinions," that the European 
of to-day must be a liberal. Let us not discuss whether it is 
this or the other form of liberalism w r hich must be his* I 
am referring to the fact that the most reactionary of 
Europeans knows, in the depths of his conscience, that 
the effort made by Europe in the last century, under the 
name of liberalism, is, in the last resort, something inevita- 
ble, inexorable; something that Western man to-day if, 
whether he likes it or no* 

Even though it be proved, with full and incontroverti- 
ble evidence, that there is falsity and fatality in alt the 
concrete shapes under which the attempt has been made 
to realise the categorical imperative of political liberty, 
inscribed on the destiny of Europe, the final evidence that 

dons, at once most evident and overwhelming, of the ruling 
sadsfaction * 1 ' is, as we shall see, the decerminadon taken by some 
nations to '*do what they jolly well please” in the consortium 
of nations. This, in their ingenuousness, they call “nationalism ” 

1, who detest all false submission to intemadonalism, find absurd, 
on the other hand, this passing phase of self-conceit on the part 
of the least developed of the nations. 



in the last century it was rig lit m substance still holds good. 
This final evidence is present equally in the European 
Communist as in the Fascist, whatever attitudes they may 
adopt to convince themselves to the contrary. All “know * 1 
that beyond all the just criticisms launched against the 
manifestations of liberalism there remains its unassailable 
truth, a truth not theoretic, scientific, intellectual, but of 
an order radically different and more decisive, namely, a 
truth of destiny, Theoretic truths not only are disputable, 
but their whole meaning and force lie in their being dis- 
puted* they spring from discussion. They live as long as 
they are discussed, and they are made exclusively for dis- 
cussion* But destiny — what from a vital point of view one 
has to be or has not to be — is not discussed, it is either ac- 
cepted or rejected* If we accept it, we are genuine; if 
not, we are the negation, the falsification of ourselves . 1 
Destiny does not consist in what we feel we should like 
to do; rather is it recognised in its clear features in the con- 
sciousness that wc must do what we do not fed like doing. 

Well, then, the “satisfied man” is characterised by his 
“knowing 17 that certain things cannot be, and nevertheless, 
for that very reason, pretending in act and word to be 
convinced of the opposite. The Fascist will take his stand 
against political liberty, precisely because he knows that 
in the long run this can never fail, but is inevitably a part 
of the very substance of European life, and will be re- 
turned to when its presence is truly required, in the hour 
of grave crisis. For the tonic that keeps the mass- man in 
form is insincerity, u the joke.” All his actions are devoid 
of the note of inevitability, they are done as the fils de 

1 Abasement, degradation! is simply tlve manner of life of the man 
who has refused to be what it is his duty to be. This, his genuine 
being, none the less does not die; rather is changed into an ac- 
cusing shadow, a phantom which constandy makes him feel the 
inferiority of the life he lives compared with the one he ought 
to live, i he debased man survives his self-inflicted death. 


I oj 

famille carries out his escapades. All that haste, in every 
order of life, to adopt tragic, conclusive, final attitudes 
is mere appearance. Men play at tragedy because they do 
not believe in the reality of the tragedy which is actually 
being staged in the civilised world. 

It would be a nice matter if we were forced to accept 
as the genuine self of an individual, whatever he tried to 
make us accept as such. If anyone persists in maintaining 
that he believes tw T o and two make five, and there is no 
reason for supposing him to be insane, we may be certain 
that he does not believe it, however much he may shout 
it out, or even if he allows himself to be killed for main- 
taining it. A hurricane of farcicality, everywhere and in 
every form, is at present raging over the lands of Europe. 
Almost all the positions taken up and proclaimed arc false 
ones. The only efforts that are being made are to escape 
from our real destiny, to blind ourselves to its evidence, 
to be deaf to its deep appeal, to avoid facing up to what 
has to be , We arc living in comic fashion, all the more 
comic the more apparently tragic is the mask adopted. 
The comic exists wherever life has no basis of inevita- 
bleness on which a stand is taken without reserves. The 
mass-man w T ill not plant his foot on the immovably firm 
ground of his destiny, he prefers a fictitious existence 
suspended in air. Hence, never as now have we. had these 
lives without substance or root — deracittes from their 
own destiny — which let themselves float on the lightest 
current. This is the epoch of “currents” and of “letting 
things slide .’ 3 Hardly anyone offers any resistance to the 
superficial whirlwinds that arise in art, in ideas, in poli- 
tics, or in social usages. Consequently, rhetoric flourishes 
more than ever. The surrealist thinks he has outstripped 
the whole of literary history w hen he has written (here a 
w ord that there is no need to write) where others have 
written “jasmines, swans and fauns .’ 1 But what he has 


really done has been simply to bring to light another form 
of rhetoric which hitherto lay hidden in the latrines. 

The present situation is made more clear by noting 
what, in spite of its peculiar features, it has in common 
with past periods. Thus, hardly does Mediterranean civi- 
lisation reach its highest point— towards the Illrd Century 
ts.c. — when the cynic makes his appearance, Diogenes, in 
his mud -covered sandals, tramps over the carpets of Aris- 
tippus. The cynic pullulated at every corner, and in the 
highest places. This cynic did nothing but sabot er the 
civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism, 
He created nothing, he made nothing. His role was to 
undo— or rather to attempt to undo* for he did not suc- 
ceed in his purpose* The cynic, a parasite of civilisation, 
lives by denying it, for the very reason that he is con- 
vinced that it will not fail. What would become of the 
cynic among a savage people where everyone, naturally 
and quite seriously, fulfils what the cynic farcically con- 
siders to be his personal role? What is your Fascist if he 
does not speak ill of liberty, or your surrealist if he does 
not blaspheme against art? 

None other could be the conduct of this type of man 
bom into a too well- organised world, of which he per- 
ceives only the advantages and not the dangers. His sur- 
roundings spoil him, because they are “civilisation,* 1 that 
is, a home, and the fils de ftrmille feels nothing that impels 
him to abandon lits mood of caprice, nothing which 
urges him to listen to outside counsels from those superior 
to himself. Still less anything which obliges him to make 
contact with the inexorable depths of his own destiny. 


The Barbarism of 

* !* ,* if 


My thesis was that XIXth-Century civilisation has auto- 
matically produced the mass-man* It will be well not to 
close the general exposition without analysing, in a par- 
ticular case, the mechanism of that production. In this 
way, by taking concrete form, the thesis gains in per- 
suasive force. 

This civilisation of the XIXth Century, I said, may be 
summed up in the two great dimensions: liberal democ- 
racy and technicism. Let us take for the moment only 
the latter. Modern technicism springs from the union be- 
tween capitalism and experimental science* Not all tech- 
nicism is scientific. That which made the stone axe in the 
Chelian period was lacking in science, and yet a tech- 
nique was created. China reached a high degree of tech- 
nique without in the least suspecting the existence of 
physics* It is only modem European technique that lias a 
scientific basis, from which it derives its specific char- 
acter, its possibility of limitless progress* All other tech- 
niques^ — Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ori- 
ental — reach up to a point of development beyond which 
they cannot proceed, and hardly do they reach it when 
they commence to display a lamentable retrogression* 

This marvellous Western technique has made possible 
the proliferation of the European species* Recall the fact 




from which this essay took its departure and which, as i 
said, contains in germ all these present considerations, 
From the VI th Century to 1800, Europe never succeeds 
in reaching a population greater than 180 millions* From 
rSoo to 1 9 14 it rises to more than 460 millions* The jump 
is unparalleled in our history. There can be no doubt 
that it is technicism — -in combination with liberal democ- 
racy— which has engendered mass-man in the quantitative 
sense of the expression* But these pages have attempted 
to show that it is also responsible for the existence of 
mass-man in the qualitative and pejorative sense of the 

By mass — as I pointed out at the start — is not to be 
specially understood the workers; it does not indicate 
a social class, but a kind of man to be found to-day in all 
social classes, who consequently represents our age, in 
w j hich he is the predominant, ruling pow r er. We are now 
about to find abundant evidence for this. 

Who is it that exercises social power to-day? Who 
imposes the forms of his own mind on the period? With- 
out a doubt, the man of the middle class. Which group, 
uuthin that middle class, is considered the superior, the 
aristocracy of the present? Without a doubt, the tech- 
nician: engineer, doctor, financier, teacher, and so on. 
Who, inside the group of technicians, represents it at its 
best and purest? Again, without a doubt, the man of 
science* If an astral personage were to visit Europe to- 
day and, for the purpose of forming judgment on it, in- 
quire as to the type of man by wluch it would prefer to 
be judged, there is no doubt that Europe, pleasantly as- 
sured of a favourable judgment, would point to her men 
of science. Of course, our astral personage would not 
inquire for exceptional individuals, but would seek the 
generic type of “man of science,” the high-point of Eu- 
ropean humanity* 


And now it turns out that the actual scientific man is 
the prototype of the mass-man. Not by chance, not 
through the individual failings of each particular man of 
science, but because science itself — the root of our civili- 
sation— automatically converts him into mass-man, makes 
of him a primitive, a modern barbarian, The fact is well 
known; k has made itself dear over and over again; but 
only when fitted into its place in the organism of this 
thesis does it take on its full meaning and its evident 

Experimental science is initiated towards the end of 
the XVTth Century (Galileo), it is definitely constituted 
at the close of the XVIIth (Newton), and it begins to de- 
velop in the middle of the XVIIIth. The development of 
anything is not the same as its constitution; it is subject 
to different conditions. Thus, the constitution of physics, 
the collective name of the experimental sciences, rendered 
necessary an effort towards unification. Such was the 
work of Newton and other men of his time. But the 
development of physics introduced a task opposite in 
character to unification. In order to progress, science de- 
manded specialisation, not in herself, but in men of sci- 
ence. Science is not specialist. If it were, it would ipso 
facto cease to be true. Not even empirical science, taken 
in its integrity, can be true if separated from mathe- 
matics, from logic, from philosophy. But scientific work 
docs, necessarily, require to be specialised. 

It would be of great interest, and of greater utility than 
at first sight appears, to draw up the history of physical 
and biological sciences, indicating the process of increas- 
ing specialisation in the work of investigators. It would 
then be seen how, generation after generation, the scien- 
tist has been gradually restricted and confined into nar- 
rower fields of mental occupation. But this is not the im- 
portant point that such a history would show, but rather 


the reverse side of the matter: how in each generation 
the scientist, through having to reduce the sphere of his 
labour, was progressively losing contact with other 
branches of science, with that integral interpretation of 
the universe which is the only thing deserving the names 
of science, culture, European civilisation. 

Specialisation commences precisely at a period which 
gives to civilised man the title “encyclopaedic* 711 The 
XlXth Century starts on its course under the direction 
of beings who lived “encyclopaedically, 77 though their 
production has already some tinge of specialism. In the 
following generation, the balance is upset and specialism 
begins to dislodge integral culture from the individual 
scientist. When by 1890 a third generation assumes in- 
tellectual command in Europe we meet with a type of 
scientist unparalleled in history* He is one who, out of 
all that has to be known in order to be a man of judg- 
ment, is only acquainted with one science, and even of 
that one only knows the small corner in which he is 
an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue 
that he takes no cognisance of what lies outside the nar- 
row territory specially cul rivaled by himself, and gives 
the name of “dilettantism 71 to any curiosity for the gen- 
eral scheme of knowledge* 

What happens is that, enclosed within the narrow 
limits of his visual held, he docs actually succeed in dis- 
covering new facts and advancing the progress of the 
science which he hardly know T s, and incidentally the en- 
cyclopedia of thought of which he is conscientiously 
ignorant. How has such a thing been possible, how is it 
still possible? For it is necessary to insist upon this ex- 
traordinary but undeniable fact: experimental science 
has progressed thanks In great part to the work of men 
astoundingly mediocre, and even less than mediocre. That 
is to say, modern science, the root and symbol of our 


actual civilisation, finds a place for the intellectually com- 
monplace man and allows him to work therein with suc^ 
cess. The reason of this lies in what is at the same time 
the great advantage and the gravest peril of the new sci- 
ence, and of the civilisation directed and represented by 
it, namely, mechanisation, A fair amount of the tilings 
that have to be done in physics or in biology is mechani- 
cal work of the mind which can be done by anyone, or 
almost anyone. For the purpose of innumerable investiga- 
tions it is possible to divide science into small sections, to 
enclose oneself in one of these, and to leave out of con- 
sideration all the rest. The solidity and exactitude of the 
methods allow of this temporary but quite real disarticula- 
tion of knowledge* The work is done under one of these 
methods as with a machine, and in order to obtain quite 
abundant results it is not even necessary to have rigor- 
ous notions of their meaning and foundations. In this way 
the majority of scientists help the general advance of sci- 
ence while shut up in the narrow cell of their laboratory, 
like the bee in the cell of its hive, or the turnspit in its 

But this creates an extraordinarily strange type of man, 
The investigator who has discovered a new fact of Na- 
ture must necessarily experience a feeling of power and 
self-assurance. With a certain apparent justice he will 
look upon himself as M a man who knows.” And in fact 
there is in him a portion of something which, added to 
many other portions not existing in him, docs really con- 
stitute knowledge. This is the true inner nature of the 
specialist, w ho in the first years of this century has reached 
the wildest stage of exaggeration. The specialist “knows” 
very well his own tiny comer of the universe; he is radi- 
cally ignorant of all the rest. 

Here we have a precise example of this strange new 
man, whom I have attempted to define, from both of his 


two opposite aspects, I have said that he was a human 
product unparalleled in history. The specialist serves as 
a striking concrete example of the species, making clear 
to us the radical nature of the novelty. For, previously, 
men could be divided simply into the learned and the 
ignorant* those more or less the one, and those more or 
Less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought in 
under cither of these two categories, He is not learned, 
for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into 
his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, because he is “a 
scientist,” and “knows” very well his own tiny portion 
of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned 
ignoramus, w T hich is a very serious matter, as it implies 
that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion 
of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one 
who is learned in his own special line. 

And such in fact is the behaviour of the specialist, In 
politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he 
will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man; but 
he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, 
and will not admit of — this is the paradox — specialists in 
those matters. By specialising him, civilisation has made 
him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but 
this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will in- 
duce him to wish to predominate outside his speciality* 
The result is that even in this case, representing a maxi- 
mum of qualification m man — specialisation — and there- 
fore the thing most opposed to the mass- man, the result 
is that he will behave in almost all spheres of life as does 
the unqualified, the mass-man. 

This is no mere wild statement. Anyone who wishes 
can observe the stupidity of thought, judgment, and ac- 
tion shown to-day in politics, art, religion, and the general 
problems of life and the world by the “men of science,” 
and of course, behind them, the doctors, engineers, finan- 


ciers, teachers, and so on. That state of “not listening/' 
of not submitting to higher courts of appeal which I have 
repeatedly put forward as characteristic of the mass-man, 
reaches its height precisely in these partially qualified 
men. They symbolise, and to a great extent constitute, 
the actual domination of the masses, and their barbarism 
is the most immediate cause of European demoralisation. 
Furthermore, they afford the dearest, most striking ex- 
ample of how the civilisation of the last century, aban- 
doned to its ovm devices, has brought about this rebirth 
of primitivism and barbarism* 

The most immediate result of this unbalanced special- 
isation has been that to-day, when there are more “scien- 
tists” than ever, there are much less “cultured” men 
than, for example, about 1750. And the worst is that with 
these turnspits of science not even the real progress of 
science itself is assured. For science needs from time to 
time, as a necessary regulator of its own advance, a la- 
bour of re constitution, and, as I have said, this demands 
an effort towards unification, which grows more and more 
difficult, involving, as it does, ever- vaster regions of the 
w r orld of knowledge, Newton was abl^to found his sys- 
tem of physics without knowing much philosophy, but 
Einstein needed to saturate himself with Kant and Mach 
before he could reach his own keen synthesis. Kant and 
Mach — the names are mere symbols of the enormous mass 
of philosophic and psychological thought which has in- 
fluenced Einstein — have served to liberate the mind of 
the latter and leave the way open for his innovation. But 
Einstein is not sufficient. Physics is entering on the grav- 
est crisis of its history, and can only be saved by a new 
“Encyclopaedia” more systematic than the first. 

The specialisation, then, that has made possible the 
progress of experimental science during a century, is 
approaching a stage where it can no longer continue its 

1 14 tiie revolt of the masses 

advance unless a new generation undertakes to provide 
it with a more powerful form of turnspit. 

But if the specialist is ignorant of the inner philosophy 
of the science he cultivates, he is much more radically 
ignorant of the historical conditions requisite for its con- 
tinuation; that is to say: how society and the heart of 
man arc to be organised in order that there may continue 
to be investigators. The decrease in scientific vocations 
noted in recent years, to which I have alluded, is an 
anxious symptom for anyone who has a clear idea of what 
civilisation is, an idea generally lacking to the typical 
“scientist, the high-point of our present civilisation. He 
also believes that civilisation ir there in just the same way 
as the earth’s crust and the forest primeval 


The Greatest Danger, 
the State 

In a right ordering of public affairs, the mass is that 
part which does not act of itself* Such is its mission* It 
has come into the world in order to be directed, influ- 
enced, represented, organised — even in order to cease 
being mass, or at least to aspire to this. But it has not 
come into the world to do all this by itself. It needs to 
submit its life to a higher court, formed of the superior 
minorities* The question as to who are these superior 
individuals may be discussed ad libitum, but that without 
them, whoever they be, humanity would cease to pre- 
serve its essentials is something about which there can be 
no possible doubt, though Europe spend a century with 
its head under its wing, ostrich-fashion, trying if she can 
to avoid seeing such a plain truth. For we are not dealing 
with an opinion based on facts more or less frequent and 
probable, but on a law of social “physics,” much more 
immovable than the laws of New r ton’s physics. The day 
when a genuine philosophy 1 once more holds sway in 

^or philosophy to rule, it is not necessary that philosophers be 
the rulers — as Plato at first wished — nor even for rulers to be 
philosophers — as was his later, more modesr, wish. Both these 
tilings are, strictly speaking, mast fatal. For philosophy to rule, it 
is sufficient for it to exist; that is to say, for tne philosophers to be 
philosophers, For nearlv a century past, philosophers have been 
everything but that — politicians, pedagogues, men of letters, and 
men of science. 


Europe — it is the one thing that can save her— that day 
she will once again realise that man* whether he like it 
or no, is a being forced by his nature to seek some higher 
authority. If he succeeds in finding it of himself, he is a 
superior man; if not, he is a mass-man and must receive 
it from his superiors. 

For the mass to claim the right to act of itself is then 
a rebellion against its own destiny, and because that is 
what it is doing at present, I speak of the rebellion of 
the masses* For, after all, the one thing that can substan- 
tially and truthfully be called rebellion is that which 
consists in not accepting one’s own destiny, in rebelling 
against one's self* The rebellion of the archangel Lucifer 
would not have been less if, instead of striving to be God 
—which was not his destiny — he had striven to be the 
lowest of the angels — equally not his destiny. (If Lucifer 
had been a Russian, like Tolstoi, he would perhaps have 
preferred this latter form of rebellion, none the less 
against God than the other more famous one*) 

When the mass acts on its own, it does so only in one 
way, for it has no other; it lynches. It is not altogether 
by chance that lynch law comes from America, for Amer- 
ica is, in a fashion, the paradise of the masses* And it 
will cause less surprise, nowadays, w T hen the masses tri- 
umph, that violence should triumph and be made the one 
ratio 7 the one doctrine* It is now some time since I called 
attention to this advance of violence as a normal condi- 
tion * 1 To-day it has reached its full development, and 
this is a good symptom, because it means that auto- 
matically the descent is about to begin* To-day violence 
is the rhetoric of the period, the empty rhetorician has 
made it his own. When a reality of human existence has 
completed its historic course, has been shipwrecked and 
lies dead, the waves throw it up on the shores of rhetoric, 
Wide Espana Inverrebrada, 1911. 

the greatest danger, the state I 17 

where the corpse remains for a long time* Rhetoric is 
the cemetery of human realities, or at any rate a Home 
for the Aged* The reality itself is survived by its name, 
which, though only a word, is after all at least a word 
and preserves something of its magic power. 

But though it is not impossible that the prestige of 
violence as a cynically established rule has entered on its 
decline, we shall still continue under that rule, though in 
another form, I refer to the gravest danger now threat- 
ening European civilisation. Like all other dangers that 
threaten it, this one is born of civilisation itself* More 
than that, it constitutes one of its glories: it is the State 
as we know it to-day* We are confronted with a replica 
of what we said in the previous chapter about science: 
the fertility of its principles brings about a fabulous 
progress, but this inevitably imposes specialisation, and 
specialisation threatens to strangle science. 

The same thing is happening with the State* Call to 
mind what the State w as at the end of the XVlIlth Cen- 
tury in all European nations* Quite a small affair! Early 
capitalism and its industrial organisation, In which the 
new, rationalised technique triumphs for the first time, 
had brought about a commencement of increase in so- 
ciety. A cew T social class appeared, greater in numbers 
and power than the pre-existing: the middle class. This 
astute middle class possessed one thing, above and before 
all: talent, practical talent. It knew' how to organise and 
discipline, how to give continuity and consistency to its 
efforts* In the midst of it, as in an ocean, the “ship of 
State” sailed its hazardous course. The ship of State is 
a metaphor re-invented by the bourgeoisie, which felt 
itself oceanic, omnipotent, pregnant with storms. That 
ship was, as we said, a very small affair: it had hardly 
any soldiers, bureaucrats, or money. It had been built 
in the Middle Ages by a class of men very different from 


I tS 

the bourgeois — the nobles, a class admirable for their 
courage, their gifts of leadership, their sense of responsi- 
bility* Without them the nations of Europe would not 
now be in existence* But with all those virtues of the 
heart, the nobles were, and always have been, lacking in 
virtues of the head* Of limited intelligence, sentimental, 
instinctive, intuitive — in a w ord, “irrational,” Hence they 
were unable to develop any technique, a thing which de- 
mands rationalisation. They did not invent gunpowder. 
Incapable of inventing new arms, they allowed the bour- 
geois, who got it from the East or somewhere else, to 
utilise gunpowder and automatically to win the battle 
against the warrior noble, the “cab a Hero,” stupidly cov- 
ered in iron so that he could hardly move in the fight, 
and who had never imagined that the eternal secret of 
warfare consists not so much in the methods of defence as 
in those of attack, a secret which was to be rediscovered 
by Napoleon . 1 

As the State is a matter of technique — of public order 
and administration — 'the “ancien regime” reaches the end 
of the XVIIIth Century with a very weak State, harassed 
on all sides by a widespread social revolt* The dispropor- 
tion between State powder and social power at this time 

' We owe to Ranke this simple picture of the great historic 
change by which for the supremacy of the nobles is substituted 
the predominance of the bourgeois- but of course its symbolic 
geometric outlines require no little filling-in in order to £e com- 
pletely true. Gunpowder was known from time immemorial* The 
invention by which a tube was charged with it was due to some- 
oue in Lombardy* Even then k was nor efficacious until the inven- 
tion of the cast cannon-ball. The ^nobles’* used firearms to a small 
extent, but they were too dear for them. It was only the bour- 
geois armies, with their better economic organisation, that could 
employ them on a large scale. It remains, however, literally true 
that the nobles, represented by the medieval type of army of the 
Burgundians, were definitely defeated by the new army, not pro- 
fessional but bourgeois, formed by the Swiss. Their primary force 
lay in the new discipline and the new rationalisation of tactics* 


is such that, comparing the situation then with that of 
the time of Charlemagne, the XVIIIth-Century Stare ap- 
pears degenerate. The Carolingian State was of course 
much less powerful than the State of Louis XVI, but, on 
the other hand, the society surrounding it was entirely 
lacking in strength. 1 The enormous disproportion be- 
tween social strength and the strength of public power 
made possible the Revolution, the revolutions — up to 1848. 

But with the Revolution the middle class took posses- 
sion of public power and applied their undeniable quali- 
ties to the State, and in little more than a generation cre- 
ated a powerful State, which brought revolutions to an 
end. Since 1848, that is to say, since the beginning of the 
second generation of bourgeois governments, there have 
been no genuine revolutions in Europe. Not assuredly 
because there were no motives for them, but because there 
were no means. Public powder was brought to the level 
of social power. Good-bye for ever to Revolutions t The 
only thing now possible in Europe is their opposite: the 
coup d'etat. Everything which in following years tried 
to look like a revolution was only a coup d'etat in dis- 

In our days the State has come to be a formidable ma- 
chine which works in marvellous fashion; of wonderful 
efficiency by reason of the quantity and precision of its 

4 It would be worth while insisting on this point and making 
clear that the epoch of absolute monarchies in Europe has coin- 
cided with very weak States. How is this to be explained? Why, 
if the State was all-powerful, “absolute,” did it not make itself 
stronger? One of the causes is that indicated, the incapacity — 
technical, organising, bureaucratic — of the aristocracies of blood f 
But this is not enough. Besides that, it also happened that the 
absolute Stare and those aristocracies did not want to aggrandise 
the Stxte at the expense of society in general. Contrary to the 
common belief, the absolute State instinctively respects society 
much more than our democratic State, which is more intelligent 
but has less sense of historic responsibility. 


means. Once it is set up in the midst of society* it is 
enough to touch a button for its enormous levers to start 
working and exercise their overwhelming power on any 
portion whatever of the social framework. 

The contemporary State is the easiest seen and best- 
known product of civilisation. And it is an interesting 
revelation when one takes note of the attitude that mass- 
man adopts before it. He sees it* admires it, knows that 
there it safeguarding his existence; but he is not con- 
scious of the fact that it is a human creation invented by 
certain men and upheld by certain virtues and funda- 
mental qualities which the men of yesterday had and 
which may vanish into air to-morrow* Furthermore, the 
mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and 
feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the 
State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public 
life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem pre- 
sents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the 
State intervene immediately and undertake a solution di- 
rectly with its immense and unassailable resources. 

This is the gravest danger that to-day threatens civili- 
sation; State intervention; the absorption of all spon- 
taneous social effort by the State, that is to say, of spon- 
taneous historical action, v^hich in the long run sustains, 
nourishes, and impels human destinies* When the mass 
suffers any ill- fortune or simply feels some strong appe- 
tite, its great temptation is that permanent, sure possibility 
of obtaining everything — without effort, struggle, doubt, 
or risk — merely by touching a button and setting the 
mighty machine in motion* The mass says to itself, u L J £t<it } 
e'est moi” w hich is a complete mistake. The State is the 
mass only in the sense in which it can be said of two 
men that they are identical because neither of them is 
named John* The contemporary State and the mass coin- 
cide only in being anonymous. But the mass-man does in 

12 I 


fact believe that lie is the State, and he will tend more and 
more to set its machinery working on whatsoever pre- 
text, to crush beneath it any creative minority which dis- 
turbs it — disturbs it in any order of things: in politics, in 
ideas, in industry. 

T he result of this tendency will be fatal. Spontaneous 
social action will be broken up over and over again by 
State intervention; no new seed will be able to fructify. 
Society will have to live for the State, man for the gov- 
ernmental machine. And as, after all, it is only a machine 
whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital sup- 
ports around it, the State, after sucking out the very mar- 
row of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead 
with that rusty death of machinery, more gruesome than 
the death of a living organism, 

Such was the lamentable fate of ancient civilisation. 
No doubt the imperial State created by the Julli and the 
Claudii was an admirable machine, incomparably superior 
as a mere structure to the old republican State of the 
patrician families. But, by a curious coincidence, hardly 
had it reached full development when the social body 
began to decay. 

Already in the times of the Antonines (Ilnd Century), 
the State overbears society with its anti-vital supremacy. 
Society begins to be enslaved, to be unable to live except 
in the service of the State . The whole of life is bu- 
reaucratised. What results? The bureauefatisation of life 
brings about its absolute decay in all orders. Wealth di- 
minishes, births are few. Then the State, in order to at- 
tend to its own needs, forces on still more the bureau- 
era tisati on of human existence. This bureaucratisation to 
the second power is the militarisation of society. The 
State's most urgent need is its apparatus of war, its army. 
Before ail the State is the producer of security (that se- 
curity, be it remembered, of which the mass-man is born). 


Hence, above all T an army. The Severi, of African origin, 
militarise the world. Vain task! Misery increases, women 
are every day less fruitful, even soldiers are lacking. After 
the time of the Severi, the army has to be recruited from 

Is the paradoxical, tragic process of Stansm now real- 
ised? Society, that it may live better, creates the State as 
an instrument. Then the State gets the upper hand and 
society has to begin to live for the Stated But for all that 
the State is still composed of the members of that society. 
But soon these do not suffice to support it, and it has to 
call in foreigners: first Dalmatians, then Germans* These 
foreigners take possession of the State, and the rest of 
society, the former populace, has to live as their slaves — 
slaves of people with whom they have nothing in com- 
mon. This is what State intervention leads to: the people 
are converted into feel to feed the mere machine which 
is the State. The skeleton eats up the flesh around it. 
The scaffolding becomes the owner and tenant of the 

When this is realised, it rather confounds one to hear 
Mussolini heralding as an astounding discovery just made 
in Italy, the formula; “AH for the State; nothing outside 
the State; nothing against the State.” This alone would 
suffice to reveal in Fascism a typical movement of mass- 
men. Mussolini found a State admirably built up — not 
by him, but precisely by the ideas and the forces he is 
combating: by liberal democracy. He confines himself to 
using it ruthlessly, and, without entering now into a de- 
tailed examination of his work, it is indisputable that the 
results obtained up to the present cannot be compared 
with those obtained in political and administrative work- 
ing by the liberal State. If he has succeeded in anything, 

1 Recall the last words of Septimus Severus to his sons: “Remain 
muted, pay the soldiers, and take no heed of the rest.” 


it is so minute, so little visible, so lacking in substance as 
with difficulty to compensate for the accumulation of the 
abnormal powers which enable him to make use of that 
machine to its full extent, 

Statism is the higher form taken by violence and direct 
action when these are set up as standards. Through and 
by means of the State, the anonymous machine, the 
masses act for themselves. The nations of Europe have 
before them a period of great difficulties iu their internal 
life, supremely arduous problems of law, economics, and 
public order. Can we help feeling that under the rule of 
the masses the State will endeavour to crush the inde- 
pendence of the individual and the group, and thus defi- 
nitely spoil the harvest of the future? 

A concrete example of this mechanism is found in one 
of the most alarming phenomena of the last thirty years: 
the enormous increase in the police force of all countries. 
The increase of population has inevitably rendered it 
necessary. However accustomed we may be to it, the 
terrible paradox should not escape our minds that the 
population of a great modern city, in order to move 
about peaceably and attend to its business, necessarily 
requires a police force to regulate the circulation. But it 
is foolishness for the party of “law and order” to imagine 
that these “forces of public authority” created to preserve 
order are always going to be content to preserve the or- 
der that that party desires* Inevitably they will end by 
themselves defining and deciding on the order they are 
going to impose — which, naturally, will be that which 
suits them best. 

It might be well to take advantage of our touching on 
this matter to observe the different reaction to a public 
need manifested by different types of society. When, 
about 1800, the new industry began to create a type of 
man — the industrial worker — more criminally inclined 

124 THE REVOLT of the masses 

than traditional types, France hastened to create a nu- 
merous police force* Towards 1810 there occurs in Eng- 
land, for the same reasons, an increase in criminality, and 
the English suddenly realise that they have no police* The 
Conservatives are in power. What will they do? Will they 
establish a police force? Nothing of the kind. They pre- 
fer to put up with crime, as well as they can. “People 
are content to let disorder alone, considering it the price 
they pay for liberty.” “In Paris,” writes John William 
Ward, “they have an admirable police force, but they 
pay dear for its advantages. I prefer to see, every three 
or four years, half a dozen people getting their throats 
cut in the Ratcliffe Hoad, than to have to submit to 
domiciliary visits, to spying, and to all the machinations 
of Fouche*” 1 Here we have two opposite ideas of the 
State. The Englishman demands that the State should 
have limits set to it. 

1 Vide Elie Ha levy, Histoire du peuple anglais m XIX sticle , Vol. 
I, p. (1912). 


Who Rules in the World? 

European civilisation, I have repeated more than once, 
has automatically brought about the rebellion of the 
masses. From one view-point this fact presents a most 
favourable aspect, as we have noted: the rebellion of the 
masses is one and the same thing as the fabulous increase 
that human existence has experienced in our times. But 
the reverse side of the same phenomenon is fearsome; it 
is none other than the radical demoralisation of humanity. 
Let us now consider this last from new view- points. 


The substance or character of a new historical period is 
the resultant of internal variations — of man and his spirit; 
or of external variations — formal, and as it were mechani- 
cal Amongst these last, the most important, almost with- 
out a doubt, is the displacement of power. But this brings 
with it a displacement of the spirit. 

Consequently, when we set about examining a period 
with a view to understanding it, one of our first ques- 
tions ought to be: who is governing in the world at the 
time? It may happen that at the time humanity is scat- 
tered in different groups without any communication, 
forming interior, independent worlds. In the days of Mil- 
tiades, the Mediterranean world was unaware of the exist- 
ence of the Far-Eastern world. In such cases we shall have 
to refer our question, “Who rules in the world?” to each 
individual group. But from the XVTth Century, humanity 


has entered on a vast unifying process which in our days 
has reached its furthest limits* There is now no portion 
of humanity living apart — no islands of human exist- 
ence. Consequently, from that century an, it may be said 
that whoever rules the world does, in fact, exercise author- 
itative influence over the whole of it. Such has been the 
part played by the homogeneous group formed by Euro- 
pean peoples during the last three centuries* Europe was 
the ruler, and under its unity of command the w'orld 
lived in unitary fashion, or at least was progressively uni- 
fied* This fashion of existence is generally styled the Mod- 
em Age, a colourless, inexpressive name, under which lies 
hidden this reality: the epoch of European hegemony. 
By “rule*' we are not here to understand primarily 
the exercise of material power, of physical coercion. We 
are here trying to avoid foolish notions, at least the more 
gross and evident ones* This stable, normal relation 
amongst men which is known as “rule” never rests on 
force; on the contrary, it is because a man or group of 
men exercise command that they have at their disposition 
that social apparatus or machinery known as “force,” The 
cases in which at first sight force seems to be the basis 
of command, are revealed on a closer inspection as the 
best example to prove our thesis. Napoleon led an ag- 
gressive force against Spain, maintained his aggression for 
a time, but, properly speaking, never ruled in Spain for 
a single day. And that, although he had the force, and 
precisely because he had it* It is necessary to distinguish 
between a process of aggression and a state of rule. Rule 
is the normal exercise of authority, and is always based 
on public opinion, to-day as a thousand years ago, 
amongst the English as amongst the bushmen, Never has 
anyone ruled on this earth by basing his rule essentially 
on any other thing than public opinion. 

It may be thought that the sovereignty of public opsu- 


ion was an invention of the lawyer Danton, in 17R9, or of 
Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Xlllth Century, 1 he notion 
of that sovereignty may have been discovered in one 
place or another, at one time or another, but the fact that 
public opinion is the basic force which produces the phe- 
nomenon of rule in human societies is as old, and as last- 
ing, as mankind. In Newton’s physics gravitation is the 
force which produces movement. And the law of public 
opinion is the universal law of gravitation in political 
history. Without it the science of history would be im- 
possible. Hence Hume's acute suggestion that the theme 
of history consists in demonstrating how the sovereignty 
of public opinion, far from being a Utopian aspiration, is 
what has actually happened everywhere and always in 
human societies* Even the man who attempts to rule 
with janissaries depends on their opinion and the opinion 
which the rest of the inhabitants have of them. 

The truth is that there Is no ruling with janissaries. 
As Talleyrand said to Napoleon: "You can do everything 
with bayonets, Sire, except sit on them.” And to rule is 
not the gesture of snatching at power, but the tranquil 
exercise of it* In a word, to rule is to sit down, be it on 
the throne, curule chair, front bench, or bishop’s seat. 
Contrary to the unsophisticated suggestions of melo- 
drama, to rule is not so much a question of the heavy 
hand as of the firm seat. The State is, in fine, the state of 
opinion, a position of equilibrium* 

What happens is that at times public opinion is non- 
existent * A society divided into discordant groups, with 
their forces of opinion cancelling one another out, leaves 
no room for a ruling power to be constituted. And as "na- 
ture abhors a vacuum” the empty space left by the ab- 
sence of public opinion is filled by brute force. At the 
most, then, the latter presents itself as a substitute for 
the former* Consequently, if wt wish to express the law 


of public opinion as die law of historical gravitation, 
we shall take into consideration those cases where it is 
absent* and we then arrive at a formula which is the 
well-known* venerable, forthright commonplace: there 
can be no rule in opposition to public opinion. 

This enables us to realise that rule signifies the pre- 
dominance of an opinion, and therefore of a spirit; that 
rule is, when all is said and done, nothing else but a 
spiritual power. This is confirmed with ptecision by the 
facts of history. All primitive rule has a “sacred” char- 
acter, for it is based on religion and religion is the first 
form under which appears what is afterwards to be spirit, 
idea, opinion; in a word, the immaterial and ultra physi- 
cal In the Middle Ages the same phenomenon is repro- 
duced on a larger scale. The first State or public author- 
ity formed in Europe is the Church, with its specific, well- 
defined character of “the spiritual power. 5 T From the 
Church the political power learns that it, too, in its origin, 
is a spiritual authority, the prevalence of certain ideas, 
and there is created the Holy Roman Empire, Thus 
arises the struggle between two powers, w^hich, hav- 
ing no differentiation in substance (as they are both 
spirit), reach an agreement by which each limits itself 
to a time-category; the temporal and the eternal. Tem- 
poral powder and religious power are equally spiritual, but 
the one is the spirit of time, public opinion, mundane 
and fluctuating, whilst the other Is the spirit of eternity, 
the opinion of God, God's view of man and his destiny. 
It comes to the same thing then to say: At a given period, 
such a man, such a people, or such a homogeneous group 
of peoples, are in command, as to say: At this given period 
there predominates in the world such a system of opinions 
—ideas, preferences, aspirations, purposes. 

How t is this predominance to be understood? The ma- 
jority of men have no opinions, and these have to be 


pumped into them from outside, like lubricants into ma- 
chinery* Hence it is necessary that some mind or other 
should hold and exercise authority, so that the people 
without opinions — the majority— can start having opin- 
ions. For without these, the common life of humanity 
would be chaos, a historic void, lacking in any organic 
structure. Consequently, without a spiritual power, i with- 
out someone to command and in proportion as this is 
lacking, chaos reigns over mankind. And similarly, all 
displacement of power, every change of authority, im- 
plies a change of opinions, and therefore nothing less than 
a change of historical gravitation. Let us go back again 
to where we started from. For several centuries tire world 
has been ruled by Europe, a conglomerate of peoples 
akin in spirit. In the Middle Ages there was no such rule 
in temporal matters. So it has happened in all the middle 
ages of history. That is why they represent a relative 
chaos, relative barbarism, a deficit of public opinion. 
They are times in which men love, hate, desire, detest; 
all this without limit; but, on the other hand, there is 
no opinion. Such epochs are not without their charm. 
But in the great epochs, what mankind lives by is opin- 
ion, and therefore, order rules. On the further side of the 
Middle Ages we also find a period in which, as in the 
Modern Age, there is someone in command, though only 
over a limited portion of the world: Rome, the great 
director. It was she who set up order in the Mediter- 
ranean and its borders. 

In these post-war times the word is beginning to go 
round that Europe no longer rules in the w r orld. Is the 
full gravity of this diagnosis realised? By it there is 
announced a displacement of power. In what direction? 
Who is going to succeed Europe in ruling over the world? 
But is it so sure that anyone is going to succeed her? 
And if no one, what then is going to happen? 




It is true, of course, that at any moment, and therefore 
actually, an infinity of things is happening in the world. 
Any attempt, then, to say what is happening in the 
world to-day must be taken as being conscious of its own 
irony. But for the very reason that we are unable to have 
directly complete knowledge of reality, there is nothing 
for us but arbitrarily to construct a reality, to suppose 
that things are happening after a certain fashion. This 
provides us with an outline, a concept or framework 
of concepts. With this, as through a "sight,” we then look 
at the actual reality, and it is only then that we obtain 
an approximate vision of it. It is in this that scientific 
method consists. Nay, more, in this consists all use of 
the intellect. When we see our friend coming up the 
garden path, and we say: "Here^s Peter,” w ? e are com- 
initing, deliberately, ironically, an error. For Peter im- 
plies for us a complex of w r ays of behaviour, physical and 
moral — what we call "character” — and the plain truth 
is that, at times, our friend Peter is not in the least like 
the concept “our friend Peter.” 

Every concept, the simplest and the most technical, 
is framed in its own irony as the geometrically cut dia- 
mond is held in its setting of gold. The concept tells us 
quite seriously: "This thing is A, that thing is B + ” But 
the seriousness is that of the man who is playing a joke 
on you, the unstable seriousness of one who is swallow- 
ing a laugh, which will burst out if he does not keep his 
lips tight-closed. It knows very w r eil that this thing is 
not just merely A, or that thing just merely B. What 
the concept really thinks is a little bit different from what 
it says, and herein the irony lies. What it really thinks 
is this: I know that, strictly speaking, this thing is not 
A, nor that thing B; but by taking them as A and B, I 


come to an understanding with myself for the purposes 
of my practical attitude towards both of these things. 
This theory of rational knowledge w r ould have displeased 
a Greek. For the Greek believed that he had discovered 
in the reason, in the concept, reality itself. We, on the 
contrary, believe that the concept is one of man's house- 
hold utensils, w^hich he needs and uses in order to make 
clear his own position in the midst of the infinite and 
very r problematic reality which is his life. Life is a strug- 
gle with things to maintain itself among them. Concepts 
are the strategic plan we form in answer to the attack. 
Hence, if we penetrate to the true inwardness of a con- 
cept, w^e find that it tells us nothing of the thing itself, 
but only sums up what one can do wtith it, or w r hat k can 
do to one. This opinion, according to which the content 
of a concept is always vital, is always a possible activity 
or passivity, has not been maintained, as far as ! know, by 
anyone before now, but it seems to me to be the inevitable 
outcome of the philosophical processes initiated by Kant. 
Hence, if by its light, w T e examine the whole past of phi- 
losophy up to the time of Kant, it will seem to us that, 
at bottom, all philosophers have said the same thing. 
Well, then, every philosophical discovery is nothing else 
than an uncovering, a bringing to the surface, of what 
was lying In the depths. 

But this is an inordinate introduction to w'hat I am 
going to say; something quite foreign to philosophical 
problems. I was simply going to say that what is actually 
happening in the world of history is this and this alone; 
for three centuries Europe has been the ruler in the world, 
and now Europe is no longer sure that she is, or will con- 
tinue to be, the ruler. To reduce to such a simple for- 
mula the ltistoric reality of the present time is doubtless, 
at the best, an exaggeration, and hence the need I was in 
of recalling that to think is, whether you want or no, to 


exaggerate. If you prefer not to exaggerate, you must re- 
main silent; or, rather, you must paralyse your intellect 
and find some way of becoming an idiot, 

I believe, then, that this is what is happening in the 
world at present, and that all the rest is mere consequence, 
condition, symptom, or incident of the first. I have not 
said that Europe has ceased to rule, but that in these 
times, Europe feels grave doubts as to whether she does 
rule or not, as to whether she will rule to-morrow. Cor- 
responding to this, there is in the other peoples of the 
earth a related state of mind, a doubt as to whether they 
are at present ruled by anyone. They also are not sure 
of it. 

There has been a lot of talk In recent years about the 
decadence of Europe. I would ask people not to be so 
simple-minded as to think of Spengler immediately the 
decadence of Europe or of the West is mentioned Be- 
fore his book appeared, everyone was talking of this 
matter, and as is well known, the success of his book was 
due to the fact that the suspicion was already existing in 
people’s minds, in ways and for reasons of the most 

There has been so much talk of the decadence of 
Europe, that many have come to take it for a fact. Not 
that they believe in it seriously and on proof, but that 
they have grow r n used to take it as true, though they 
cannot honestly recall having convinced themselves de- 
cidedly in the matter at any fixed rime. Waldo Frank's 
recent book The Rediscovery of America is based en- 
tirely on the supposition that Europe is at its last gasp. 
And yet, Frank neither analyses nor discusses, nor sub- 
mits to question this enormous fact, which is to serve him 
as a formidable premise. Without further investigation, 
he starts from it as from something incontrovertible. And 
this ingenuousness at the very start Is sufficient to make 


me think that Frank is not convinced of the decadence 
of Europe; far from it, he has never set himself the prob- 
lem. He takes it as he would take a tram* Commonplaces 
are the tramways of intellectual transportation* And as 
he does, so do many others. Above all, it is done by na- 
tions, w hole nations* 

The world at the present day is behaving in a way 
which is a very model of childishness* In school, when 
someone gives the word that the master has left the class, 
the mob of youngsters breaks loose, kicks up its heels, 
and goes wild. Each of them experiences the delights of 
escaping the pressure imposed by the master's presence; 
of throwing off the yoke of rule, of feeling himself the 
master of his fate. But as, once the plan which directed 
their occupations and tasks is suspended, the youthful 
mob has no formal occupation of its own, no task with 
a meaning, a continuity, and a purpose, it follows that 
it can only do one tiling — stand on its head. The frivolous 
spectacle offered by the smaller nations to-day is deplor- 
able. Because it is said that Europe is in decadence and 
has given over ruling, every tuppeny-ha'penny nation 
starts skipping, gesticulating, standing on its head or 
else struts around giving itself airs of a grown-up person 
who is the ruler of his own destinies. Hence the vibrionic 
panorama of “nationalisms” that meets our view every- 

In previous chapters I attempted to put in his classi- 
fication a new type of man w r ho to-day predominates 
in the world: I called him the mass-man, and I observed 
that his main characteristic lies in that, feeling himself 
“common,” he proclaims the right to be common, and 
refuses to accept any order superior to himself. It was 
only natural that if this mentality is predominant in 
every people, it should be manifest also when we con- 
sider the nations as a group. There are then also reta- 

1 34 the revolt of the masses 

rively mass-peoples determined on rebelling against the 
great creative peoples, the minority of human stocks 
which have organised history* It is really comic to see 
how this or the other puny republic, from its out-of-the- 
way corner, stands up on dp-toe, starts rebuking Europe, 
and declares that she has lost her place in universal his- 

What is the result? Europe had created a system of 
standards w hose efficacy and productiveness the centuries 
have proved* Those standards are not the best possible; 
far from it. But they are, without a doubt, definite 
standards as long as no others exist or are visualised* Be- 
fore supplanting them, it is essential to produce others. 
Now, the mass-peoples have decided to consider as bank- 
rupt that system of standards which European civilisation 
implies, but as they are incapable of creating others, 
they do not know what to do, and to pass the time they 
kick up their heels and stand on their heads. Such is the 
first consequence which follows when there ceases to be 
in the world anyone who rules; the rest, when they 
break into rebellion, are left without a task to perform, 
without a programme of life* 

The gypsy in the story went to confession, but the cau- 
tious priest asked him if he knew the commandments of 
the law of God. To which the gypsy replied: “Well, 
Father, it's this way: 1 was going to learn them, but I 
heard talk that they were going to do away with them.’* 

Is not this the situation in the world at present? The 
rumour is running round that the commandments of the 
law of Europe are no longer in force, and in view of 
this, men and peoples are taking the opportunity of liv- 
ing w ithout imperatives. For the European were the only 
ones that existed* It is not a question — as has happened 


previously — of new standards springing up to displace 
the old, or of a new fervour absorbing in its youthful 
vigour the old enthusiasms of diminishing temperature* 
That would be the natural procedure. Furthermore* the 
old is proved to be old not because it is itself falling into 
senility* but because it has against it a new principle 
which, by the fact of being new, renders old the pre- 
existing* If we had no children* we should not be old* or 
should take much longer to get old* The same happens 
with machines. A motor-car ten years old seems older 
than a locomotive of twenty years ago* simply because 
the inventions of motor production have followed one 
another with greater rapidity* This decadence* which has 
its source in the rising-up of fresh youth, is a symptom 
of health. 

But what is happening at present in Europe is some- 
thing unhealthy and unusual* The European command- 
ments have lost their force* though there is no sign of 
any others on the horizon* Europe— we are told — is ceas- 
ing to rule, and no one seas who is going to take her 
place. By Europe we understand primarily and properly 
the trinity of France, England, Germany. It is in the por- 
tion of the globe occupied by these that there has ma- 
tured that mode of human existence in accordance with 
which the world has been organized* If* as is now an- 
nounced* these three peoples are in decadence* and their 
programme of life has lost its validity, it is not strange 
that the world is becoming demoralised* 

And such is the simple truth* The whole world — na- 
tions and individuals — Is demoralised. For a time this 
demoralisation rather amuses people* and even causes 
a vague illusion* The lower ranks think that a weight has 
been lifted off them. Decalogues retain from the time 
they were written on stone or bronze their character of 
heaviness* The etymology of command conveys the no- 


rion of putting a load into someone’s hands. He who 
commands cannot help being a bore* Lower ranks the 
world over are tired of being ordered and commanded, 
and with holiday air take advantage of a period freed 
from burdensome imperatives. But the holiday docs not 
last long. Without commandments, obliging us to live 
after a certain fashion, our existence is that of the "un- 
employed. 1 " This is the terrible spiritual situation in which 
the best youth of the world finds itself to-day. By dint 
of feeling itself free, exempt from restrictions, it feels it- 
self empty. An "unemployed’ 1 existence is a worse nega- 
tion of life than death itself. Because to live means to 
have something definite to do — a mission to fulfil — and 
in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to some- 
thing, we make it empty. Before long there will be heard 
throughout the planet a formidable cry, rising like the 
howling of innumerable dogs to the stars, asking for 
someone or something to take command, to impose an 
occupation, a duty* This for those people who, with 
the thoughtlessness of children, announce to us that Eu- 
rope is no longer in command. To command is to give 
people something to do, to fit them into their destiny, 
to prevent their wandering aimlessly about in an empty, 
desolate existence. 

It would not matter if Europe ceased to command, 
provided there were someone able to take her place. But 
there is not the faintest sign of one. New York and Mos- 
cow represent nothing new T relatively to Europe* They 
are both of them two sections of the European order of 
things, which, by dissociating from the rest, have lost 
their meaning. In sober truth, one is afraid to talk of 
New York and Moscow, because one does not know 
what they really are; the only thing one knows is that 
the decisive word has not yet been said about either of 
them. But even without full knowledge of what they are, 

who rutes in the world? 137 

one can arrive at sufficient to understand their generic 
character* And, in fact, both of them fit in perfectly with 
what I have sometimes called ‘"phenomena of historical 
camouflage*" Of its nature, camouflage is a reality which 
is not what it seems. Its appearance, instead of declaring, 
conceals its substance. Hence the majority of people are 
deceived* The deception can only be avoided by one who 
knows beforehand, and in general, that there is such a 
tiling as camouflage. It is the same as with the mirage. The 
concept we have of the phenomenon corrects our vision. 

In every instance of historical camouflage we have two 
realities superimposed; one genuine and substantial, un- 
derneath; the other apparent and accidental, on the sur- 
face. So, in Moscow, there is a screen of European ideas 
— Marxism — thought out in Europe in view of Euro- 
pean realities and problems. Behind it there is a people, 
not merely ethnically distinct from the European, but 
what is much more important, of a different age to ours, 
A. people still in process of fermentation; that is to say, 
a child-people. That Marxism should triumph in Rus- 
sia, where there is no industry, would be the greatest 
contradiction that Marxism could undergo. But there is 
no such contradiction, for there is no such triumph. Rus- 
sia is Marxist more or less as the Germans of the Holy 
Roman Empire were Romans, New peoples have no ideas. 
When they grow up in an atmosphere in which an old 
civilisation exists, or has existed, they disguise themselves 
in the ideas which it offers to them. Here is the camou- 
flage and the reason for it. As I have observed on other 
occasions, it is forgotten that there are two main types 
of evolution for a people. There is the people which 
is bom into a “world” empty of all civilisation, for ex- 
ample the Egyptians or the Chinese. In such a people 
everything is autochthonous, and their acts have a clear 
direct sense of their own. But there are other peoples 

138 the revolt of the masses 

who spring up and develop in a situation already oecu- 
pied by a civilisation of long history. So Rome, which 
grows up by the Mediterranean, whose waters were im- 
pregnated with Graeco-Griental culture. Hence half the 
“gestures” of the Romans are not their own, they have 
been learnt. And the “gesture * 1 which has been learnt, 
accepted* has always a double aspect, its real meaning 
is oblique, not direct. The man who performs an act 
which he has learnt*—s peaks a foreign w r ord t for exam- 
ple — carries out beneath it an act of his own, genuine; 
he translates the foreign term to his own language. 
Hence, in order to penetrate camouflage an oblique 
glance is required, the glance of one who is translating 
a text with the dictionary by his side. I am waiting for 
the book in which Stalin's Marxism will appear trans- 
lated into Russian history. For it is this which is Rus- 
sia’s strength, what it has of Russian, not what it has of 
Communist. Goodness knows what it will be like! The 
only thing one can assert is that Russia will require cen- 
turies before she can aspire to command. Because she 
is still lacking in commandments she has been obliged 
to feign adherence to the European principles of Marx, 
As she has abundant youth, that Action is enough for 
her. Youth does not require reasons for living, it only 
needs pretexts. Something very similar is happening with 
New York. It is again an error to attribute its actual 
strength to the commandments it obeys. In the last re- 
sort these are reduced to one— tech nicism. How r strange! 
Another European invention, not an American. Teeh- 
nicism is invented by Europe during the XVlllth and 
XIXth Centuries. Again how strange! The very centuries 
in which America is coming into existence. And we are 
told quite seriously that the essence of America is its 
practical and tech ni cist conception of life. Instead of 


being told that America is, as all colonies are, a rejuve- 
nescence of old races, in particular of Europe. For differ- 
ent reasons to those in the case of Russia, the United 
States also affords an example of that specific historic 
reality which we call “a new people / 1 This is looked upon 
as a mere phrase, when in reality it is a fact as precise 
as that of youth in man. America is strong by reason of 
its youth, which has put itself at the service of the mod- 
ern commandment of technic ism, just as it might have 
put itself at the service of Buddhism, if that w ere the or- 
der of the day. But while acting thus, America is only 
starting its history. It is only now that its trials, its dis- 
sensions, Its conflicts, are beginning. It has yet to be many 
things; amongst others, some things quite opposed to the 
technical and the practical. America is younger than 
Russia* I have always maintained, though in fear of exag- 
geration, that it is a primitive people camouflaged behind 
the latest inventions . 1 And now Waldo Frank, in his Re- 
discovery of America , declares this openly. America has 
not yet suffered; it is an illusion to think that it can pos- 
sess the virtues of command* 

Anyone who wishes to escape from the pessimistic con- 
clusion that nobody is going to be in command, and 
that therefore the historic w r orld is returning into chaos, 
will have to fall back to the point we started from, and 
ask himself seriously: Is it as certain as people say that 
Europe is in decadence; that it is resigning its command; 
abdicating? May not this apparent decadence be a bene- 
ficial crisis which will enable Europe to be really, literally 
Europe* The evident decadence of the nations of Eu- 
rope, was not this a priori necessary if there w T as to be 
one day possible a United States of Europe, the plurality 
of Europe substituted by its formal unity? 

‘See El Espectador (VII. Hegel y America )* 




The function of commanding and obeying is the decisive 
one in every society* As long as there is any doubt as to 
who commands and who obeys, all the rest will be im- 
perfect and ineffective. Even the very consciences of 
men, apart from special exceptions, will be disturbed and 
falsified, If man were a solitary being, finding himself 
only on occasion thrown into association with others, 
he might come out intact from such disturbances, brought 
about by the displacements and crises of the ruling Power. 
But as he is social in his mosr intimate texture, his per- 
sonal character is transformed by changes which strictly 
speaking only immediately affect the collectivity. Hence 
it is, that if an individual be taken apart and analysed, it 
is possible without further data to deduce how his coun- 
try's conscience is organised in the matter of command 
and obedience. 

It would be interesting and even useful to submit to 
this test the individual character of the average Spaniard, 
However, the operation would be an unpleasant one, 
and though useful, depressing, so I avoid it. But it would 
make clear the enormous dose of personal demoralisa- 
tion, of degradation, which is produced in the average 
man of our country by the fact that Spain is a nation 
which has lived for centuries with a false conscience in 
the matter of commanding and obeying. This degrada- 
tion is nothing else than the acceptance, as a normal, con- 
stituted condition, of an irregularity, of sometliing which, 
though accepted, is still regarded as not right. As it is 
impossible to change into healthy normality what is of 
its essence unhealthy and abnormal, the individual de- 
cides to adapt himself to the thing that is wrong, mak- 
ing himself a part of the crime or irregularity. It is a 
mechanism similar to that indicated by the popular say- 


ing, “One lie makes a hundred,” All countries have passed 
through periods when someone who should not rule has 
made the attempt to rule over them, but a strong in- 
stinct forced them at once to concentrate their energies 
and to crush that irregular claim to exercise power. They 
rejected the passing irregularity and thus reconstituted 
their morale as a people* But the Spaniard has done just 
the opposite; instead of resisting a form of authority 
which his innermost conscience repudiated, he has pre- 
ferred to falsify all the rest of his being in order to bring 
it into line with that initial unreality* As long as this con- 
tinues in our country it is vain to hope for anything 
from the men of our race. There can be no elastic vigour 
for the difficult task of retaining a worthy position in 
history in a society whose State* whose authority, is of 
its very nature a fraud. 

There is, then, nothing strange in the fact that a slight 
doubt, a simple hesitation as to who rules in the world, 
should be sufficient to bring about a commencement of 
demoralisation in everyone, both in his public and his 
private life* 

Human life, by its very nature, has to be dedicated to 
something, an enterprise glorious or humble, a destiny 
illustrious or trivial We are faced w T ith a condition, 
strange but inexorable, involved in our very existence* 
On the one hand, to live is something which each one 
does of himself and for himself* On the other hand, if 
that life of mine, which only concerns myself, is not 
directed by me towards something, it will be disjointed, 
lacking in tension and in “form*” In these years we are 
witnessing the gigantic spectacle of innumerable human 
lives wandering about lost in their own labyrinths,, 
through not having anything to which to give them- 
selves. All imperatives, all commands, are in a stare of 
suspension. The situation might seem to be an ideal one. 

142 the revolt of the masses 

since every existence is left entirely free to do just as it 
pleases — to look after itself. The same with every nation. 
Europe has slackened its pressure on the world. But the 
result has been contrary to what might have been ex- 
pected. Given over to itself, every life has been left empty, 
with nothing to do. And as it has to be filled with some- 
thing, it invents frivolities for itself, gives itself to false 
occupations which impose nothing intimate, sincere. To- 
day it is one thing, to-morrow another, opposite to the 
first. Life Is lost at finding itself all alone. Merc egoism 
is a labyrinth. This is quite understandable. Really to live 
is to be directed towards something, to progress towards 
a goal. The goal is not my motion, not my life, it is the 
something to 'which I put my life and which consequently 
is outside it, beyond it* If I decide to walk alone inside 
my own existence, egoistical ly, I make no progress, I 
arrive nowhere. ! keep turning round and round in the 
one spot. That is the labyrinth, the road that leads no- 
where, which loses itself, through being a mere turning 
round within itself. Since the war the European has shut 
himself up within himself, has been left without projects 
either for himself or for others. Hence we are continuing 
historically as we were ten years ago. 

Command is not exercised in the void. It implies a 
pressure exercised on others* But it does not imply this 
alone. If it were only this, it would be mere violence. 
We must not forget that command has a double effect— 
someone is commanded, and he is commanded to do 
something* And in the long run w r hat he is ordered to 
do is to take his share in an enterprise, in a historic des- 
tiny. Hence there is no empire without a programme of 
life; more precisely, without a programme of imperial 
life. As the line of Schiller says: “When kings build, the 
carters have work to do.” It will not do, then, to adopt 
the trivial notion which thinks it sees in the activity of 


great nations — as of great men — a merely egoistic inspira- 
tion. It is not as easy as you imagine to be a pure egoist, 
and none such have ever succeeded. The apparent ego- 
ism of great nations and of great men is the inevitable 
sternness with which anyone who has his life fixed on 
some undertaking must bear himself. When we are really 
going to do something and have dedicated ourselves to 
a purpose, we cannot be expected to be ready at hand 
to look after every passer-by and to lend ourselves to 
every chance display of altruism. One of the things that 
most delight travellers in Spain is that if they ask some- 
one in the street where such a building or square is, the 
man asked will often turn aside from his own path and 
generously sacrifice himself to the stranger, conducting 
him to the point he is interested in, I am not going to 
deny that there may be in this disposition of the worthy 
Spaniard some element of generosity, and 1 rejoice that 
the foreigner so interprets his conduct. But l have never, 
when hearing or reading of this, been able to repress a 
suspicion; “Was my countryman, when thus questioned, 
really going anywhere?” Because it might very well be, 
in many cases, that the Spaniard is going nowhere, has 
no purpose or mission, but rather goes out into life to 
see if others' Eves can fill his own a little. In many in- 
stances I know quite well that my countrymen go out 
to the street to see if they will come across some stranger 
to accompany on his way. 

It is serious enough that this doubt as to the rule 
over the world, hitherto held by Europe, should have 
demoralised the other nations, except those who by rea- 
son of their youth are still in their pre-history. But it 
is still more serious that this marking-time should reach 
the point of entirely demoraEsing the European himself. 
I do not say this because I am a European or some- 
thing of the sort. I am not saying ‘if the European is not 

144 THE REVOLT of the masses 

to rule in the immediate future, I am not interested in 
the life of the world/ 7 Europe's loss of command would 
not w r orry me if there w'ere in existence another group of 
countries capable of taking its place in power and in the 
direction of the planet l should not even ask so much* 
1 should be content that no one rule, were it not that this 
would bring in its train the volatilisation of all the vir- 
tues and qualities of European man* 

Well, this is what would inevitably happen. If the Eu- 
ropean grows accustomed not to rule, a generation and 
a half will be sufficient to bring the old continent, and 
the whole world along with it, into moral inertia, intel- 
lectual sterility, universal barbarism* It is only the illu- 
sion of rule, and the discipline of responsibility which 
it entails, that can keep Western minds in tension. Sci- 
ence, art, technique, and all die rest live on the tonic 
atmosphere created by the consciousness of authority. 
If this is lacking, the European will gradually become 
degraded. Minds will no longer have that radical faith 
in themselves which impels them, energetic, daring, tena- 
cious, towards the capture of great new ideas in every 
order of life* The European will inevitably become a day- 
to-day man. Incapable of creative, specialised effort, he 
will be always falling back on yesterday, on custom, on 
routine* He will turn into a commonplace, conventional, 
empty creature, like the Greeks of the decadence and 
those of the Byzantine epoch* 

A creative life implies a regime of strict mental health, 
of high conduct, of constant stimulus, which keep active 
die consciousness of mans dignity. A creative life is 
energetic life, and this is only possible in one or other 
of these two situations: either being the one who rules, 
or finding oneself placed in a world which is ruled by 
someone in whom we recognise full right to such a 
function: either I rule or I obey* By obedience 1 do not 


mean mere submission — this is degradation— but on the 
contrary, respect for the ruler and acceptance of his 
leadership, solidarity with him, an enthusiastic enrol- 
ment under his banner. 


It will be well now to get back again to the starting- 
point of these articles; to the curious fact that there has 
been so much talk in these years about the decadence of 
Europe. It is a surprising detail that this decadence has 
not been first noticed by outsiders, but that the dis- 
covery of it is due to the Europeans themselves. When 
nobody outside the Old Continent thought of it, there 
occurred to some men of Germany, England, France, this 
suggestive idea: “Are we not starting to decay?” The 
idea has had a good press, and to-day everyone is talk- 
ing of European decadence as if it were an incontroverti- 
ble fact. 

But just beckon to the man who is engaged in proclaim- 
ing it, and ask him on what concrete, evident data he 
is basing his diagnosis. At once you will see him make 
vague gestures, and indulge in that waving of the arms 
cowards the round universe which is characteristic of 
the shipwrecked. And m truth he does not know what 
to cling to. The only tiling that appears, and that not in 
great detail, when an attempt b made to define the ac- 
tual decadence of Europe, is the complex of economic 
difficulties, which every one of the European nations has 
to face to-day* But w r hen one proceeds to penetrate a 
little into the nature of these difficulties, one realises that 
none of them seriously affect the power to create wealth, 
and that the Old Continent has passed through much 
graver crises of this order. 

Is it, perhaps, the case that the Germans or the Eng- 
lish do not feel themselves to-day capable of producing 

1 46 the revolt of the masses 

more things and better things, than ever? Nothing of the 
kind; and it is most important that we investigate the 
cause of the real state of mind of Germany or England 
in the sphere of economics. And it is curious to discover 
that their undoubted depressed state arises not from the 
fact that they feel themselves without the capacity; but, 
on the contrary, that feeling themselves more capable 
than ever, they run up against certain fatal barriers which 
prevent them carrying into effect what is quite within 
their power. Those fatal frontiers of the actual eco- 
nomics of Germany, England* France, are the political 
frontiers of the respective states. The real difficulty, then, 
has its roots, not in this or that economic problem which 
may present itself, but in the fact that the form of pub- 
lic life in which the economic capabilities should develop 
themselves is altogether inadequate to the magnitude 
of these latter. To my mind, the feeling of shrinkage, 
of impotency, w r hich undoubtedly lies heavy on the vi- 
tality of Europe in these times is nourished on that dis- 
proportion between the great potentialities of Europe 
and the form of political organisation within which they 
have to act. The impulse to tackle questions of grave 
urgency is as vigorous as it has ever been, but it is tram- 
melled in the tiny cages in which it is imprisoned, in the 
relatively small nations into which up to the present Eu- 
rope has been organised. The pessimism, the depression, 
which to-day weighs dow n the continental mind is simi- 
lar to that of the bird of widely-spreading wings which, 
on stretching them out for flight, beats against the bars 
of its cage. 

The proof of this is that the situation is repeated in 
all the other orders, whose factors are apparently so 
different from those of economics. lake, for example, 
intellectual life. Every “intellectual 5 " to-day in Germany, 
England, or France feels suffocated within the boundaries 


of his country i feels his nationality as an absolute limi- 
tation. The German professor now realises the absurdity 
of the type of production to which he is forced by his 
immediate public of German professors, and misses the 
superior freedom of the French writer or the English 
essayist. Vice versa, the Parisian man of letters is begin- 
ning to understand that an end has come to the tradition 
of literary mandarinism, of verbal formalism, and would 
prefer, while keeping some of the better qualities of that 
tradition, to amplify it with certain virtues of the German 

The same thing is happening in the order of internal 
politics. We have not yet seen a keen analysis of the 
strange problem of the political life of all the great na- 
tions being at such a low ebb. We are told that demo- 
cratic institutions have lost prestige. But that is precisely 
what it should be necessary to explain. Because such loss 
of prestige is very strange. Everywhere Parliament is 
spoken ill of, but people do not see that in no one of 
the countries that count is there any attempt at substi- 
tution. Nor do even the Utopian outlines exist of other 
forms of the State w hich seem, at any rate ideally, prefer- 
able. Too much credit, then, is not to be given to the 
authenticity of this loss of prestige. It is not institutions, 
qua instruments of public life, that arc going badly in 
Europe; it is the tasks on w-hich to employ them. There 
are lacking programmes of a scope adequate to the ef- 
fective capacities that life has come to acquire in each 
European individual. We have here an optical illusion 
which it is important to correct once for all, for it is 
painful to listen to the stupidities uttered every hour, 
with regard to Parliaments, for example. There are a 
whole series of valid objections to the traditional meth- 
ods of conducting Parliaments, but if they are taken 
one by one, it is seen that none of them justifies the con- 


elusion that Parliaments ought to be suppressed, but all* 
on the contrary, indicate directly and evidently that 
they should be reformed. Now the best that humanly 
speaking can be said of anything is that it requires to 
be reformed, for that fact implies that it is indispensable, 
and that it is capable of new life. The motor-car of to-day 
is the result of all the objections that were made against 
the motor-car of 1910, But the vulgar dis esteem into 
which Parliament has fallen does not arise from such 
objections. We are told, for example, that it is not ef- 
fective, Our question should then be, “Not effective for 
what?^ for efficacy h the virtue an instrument possesses 
to bring about some finality* The finality in this case 
would be the solution of the public problems of each 
nation. Hence, we demand of the man who proclaims the 
inefficacy of Parliaments, that he possess a clear notion of 
wherein lies the solution of actual public problems. For 
if not, if in no country is it to-day clear, even theo- 
retically, what it is that has to be done, there is no sense 
in accusing institutions of being inefficient. It would be 
better to remind ourselves that no institution in history 
has created more formidable, more efficient States, than 
the Parliaments of the XIXth Century. The fact is so in- 
disputable that to forget it implies stark stupidity. We are 
not, then, to confuse the possibility and the urgency of 
thoroughly reforming legislative assemblies, in order to 
render them “even more TT efficacious, with an assertion 
of their inutility. 

The loss of prestige by Parliaments has nothing to do 
with their notorious defects. It proceeds from another 
cause, entirely foreign to them, considered as political 
instruments, it arises from the fact that the European 
does not know in what to utilise them; has lost respect 
for the traditional aims of public life; in a word, cher- 
ishes no illusion about the national States in which he 


finds himself circumscribed and a prisoner* If this much- 
talked -of loss of prestige is looked into a little carefully, 
what is seen is that the citizen no longer feels any respect 
for his State, either in England, Germany, or France, 
It would be useless to make a change in the detail of 
institutions, because it is not these which are unworthy 
of respect, but the State itself which has become a puny 

For the first time, the European, checked in his projects, 
economic, political, intellectual, by the limits of his own 
country, feds that those projects — that is to say, his vital 
possibilities — are out of proportion to the size of the col- 
lective body m which he is enclosed. And so he has dis- 
covered that to be English, German, or French ls to be 
provincial* He has found out that he is ‘less’’ than he 
was before, for previously the Englishman, the French- 
man, and the German believed, each for himself, that 
he was the universe* This is, to my mind, the true source 
of that feeling of decadence which to-day afflicts the 
European, It is therefore a source which is purely spirit- 
ual, and is also paradoxical, inasmuch as the presumption 
of decadence springs precisely from the fact that his 
capacities have increased and find themselves limited by 
an old organisation, within which there is no room for 
them. To give some support to what I have been saying, 
let us take any concrete activity; the making of motor- 
cars, for example. The motor-car is a purely European 
invention. Nevertheless, to-day, the North- American 
product is superior. Conclusion: the European motor-car 
is in decadence. And yet the European manufacturer of 
motors knows quite well that the superiority of the Amer- 
ican product does not arise from any specific virtue pos- 
sessed by the men overseas, but simply from the fact that 
the American can offer his product, free from restrictions, 
to a population of a hundred and tw enty millions. Imagine 


] 50 

a European factory seeing before it a market composed of 
all the European States, with their colonies and protec- 
torates, No one doubts that a car designed for five hun- 
dred or six hundred million customers would be much 
better and much cheaper than the Ford. All the virtues 
peculiar to American technique are, almost of a certainty, 
effects and not causes of the scope and homogeneity of 
the market. The ‘Nationalisation” of industry is an auto- 
matic consequence of the size of the market. 

The real situation of Europe would, then, appear to 
be this: its long and splendid past has brought it to a new 
stage of existence w here everything has increased; but, 
at the same time, the institutions surviving from that past 
are dwarfed and have become an obstacle to expansion. 
Europe has been built up in the form of small nations. In 
a way, the idea and the sentiment of nationality have been 
her most characteristic invention. And now' she finds her- 
self obliged to exceed herself. This is the outline of the 
enormous drama to be staged in the coming years. Will 
she be able to shake off these survivals, or will she remain 
for ever their prisoner? Because it has already happened 
once before in history that a great civilisation has died 
through not being able to adopt a substitute for its tradi- 
tional idea of the state. 


I have recounted elsewhere the sufferings and death of 
the Graeco-Roman world, and for special details I refer 
my readers to w-hat is there said . 1 But just now w r e can 
take the matter from another point of view. 

Greeks and Latins appear in history lodged, like bees 
in their hives, within cities, poleis. This is a simple fact, 
mysterious in its origin, a fact from which we must start, 
without more ado, as the zoologist starts from the bald, 

i Ei EspectadoTj VI, 


unexplained fact that the sphex lives a solitary wanderer, 
whereas the golden bee exists only in hive-building 
swarms. Excavation and archaeology allow us to see some- 
thing of what existed on the soil of Athens and Rome be- 
fore Athens and Rome were there. But the transition 
from that pre-history, purely rural and without specific 
character* to the rising-up of the city, a fruit of a new 
kind produced on the soil of both peninsulas, this remains 
a secret. We are not even clear about the ethnic link be- 
tween those prehistoric peoples and these strange com- 
munities which introduce into the repertoire of humanity 
a great innovation; that of building a public square and 
around it a city, shut in from the fields. For in truth the 
most accurate definition of the mbs and the polis Is very 
like the comic definition of a cannon. You take a hole, 
wrap some steel wire tightly round it, and that's your 
cannon. So, the mbs or the polls starts by being an empty 
space, the fonwn , the agora, and all the rest is just a means 
of fixing that empty space, of limiting its outlines. The 
polis is not primarily a collection of habitable dwellings, 
but a meeting- place for citizens, a space set apart for pub- 
lic functions. The city is not built, as is the cottage or the 
damns, to shelter from the weather and to propagate the 
species — these are personal, family concerns — but in order 
to discuss public affairs. Observe that this signifies nothing 
less than the invention of a new kind of space, much more 
new than the space of Einstein. 1 ih then only one space 
existed, that of the open country, with all the consequences 
that this involves for the existence of man. The man of the 
fields is still a sort of vegetable. His existence, all that he 
feels, thinks, wishes for, preserves the listless drowsiness 
in w T hich the plant lives. The great civilisations of Asia 
and Africa were, from this point of view, huge anthropo- 
morphic vegetations. But the Graeco-Roman decides to 
separate himself from the fields, from “Nature,” from the 


geo-botanic cosmos* How is this possible? How can man 
withdraw himself from the fields? Where will he go, since 
the earth is one huge, unbounded held? Quite simple; he 
will mark off a portion of this field by means of walls, 
which set up an enclosed, finite space over against amor- 
phous, limitless space* Here you have the public square. 
It is not, like the house, an '‘interior” shut in from above, 
as are the caves which exist in the fields, it is purdv and 
simply the negation of the fields. The square, thanks to the 
walls which enclose it, is a portion of the countryside 
which turns its back on the rest, eliminates the rest and sets 
up in opposition to it T This lesser, rebellious field, which 
secedes from the limitless one, and keeps to itself, is a space 
sui generis, of the most novel kind, in which man frees 
himself from the community of the plant and the animal, 
leaves them outside, and creates an enclosure apart which 
is purely human, a civil space. Hence Socrates, the great 
townsman, quintessence of the spirit of the polis, can say: 
*T have nothing to do with the trees of the field, I have to 
do only with the man of the city.” What has ever been 
known of this by the Hindu, the Persian, the Chinese, or 
the Egyptian? 

Up to the time of Alexander and of Caesar, respectively, 
the history of Greece and of Rome consists of an incessant 
struggle between these two spaces: between the rational 
city and the vegetable country, between the lawgiver 
and the husbandman, betw een jus and nts . 

Do not imagine that this origin of the city is an inven- 
tion of mine, of merely symbolic truth. With strange 
persistence, the dwellers in the Graeco- Latin city preserve, 
in the deepest, primary stratum of their memories, this 
recollection of a synoikismos. No need to worry out texts, 
a simple translation is enough. Synoikismos is the resolu- 
tion to live together; consequently, an assembly, in the 


strict double sense of the word, physical and juridical. 
To vegetative dispersion over the countryside succeeds 
civil concentration within the town. The city is the super- 
house, the supplanting of the infra-human abode or nest, 
the creation of an entity higher and more abstract than 
the oikos of the family. This is the res publics the politm, 
which is not made up of men and women, but of citizens. 
A new' dimension, not reducible to the primitive one allied 
to the animal, is offered to human existence, and within 
it those who were before mere men are going to employ 
their best energies. In this way comes into being the city, 
from the first a State. 

After a fashion, the whole Mediterranean coast has 
always displayed a spontaneous tendency towards this 
State-type. With more or less purity the North of Africa 
(Carthage = the city) repeats the same phenomenon. 
Italy did not throw off the City-State till the XIXth Cen- 
tury, and our own East Coast splits up easily into canton- 
alism, an after-taste of that age-old inspiration . 1 

The City-State, by reason of the relative smallness of 
its content, allows ns to see clearly the specific nature 
of the State-principle* On the one hand, the word “state 7 ’ 
implies that historic forces have reached a condition of 
equilibrium, of fixedness. In this sense, it connotes the 
opposite of historic movement: the State is a form of life 
stabilised, constituted, static in fact. But this note of im- 
mobility, of definite, unchanging form, conceals, as does 
all equilibrium, the dynamism which produced and up- 
holds the State. In a word, it makes us forget that the 
constituted State is merely the result of a previous move- 

1 It would be interesting to show that in Catalonia there is a 
collaboration of opposing tendencies: the nationalism of Europe 
and the urfranirt?i of Barcelona, where the tendency of early 
Mediterranean man survives. 1 have said elsewhere that our East 
Coast contains the remnant of h&mo mtiquu? left in the Peninsula* 

154 THE hevolt of the masses 

ment T of struggles and efforts which tended to its making. 
The constituted state is preceded by the constituent state, 
and this is a principle of movement. 

By this 1 mean that the State is not a form of society 
which man finds ready-made — a gift, but that it needs 
to be laboriously built up by him. It is not like the horde 
or tribe or other societies based on consanguinity which 
Nature takes on itself to form without the collaboration 
of human effort. On the contrary, the State begins when 
man strives to escape from the natural society of which 
he has been made a member by blood. And when we 
say blood, we might also say any other natural principle: 
language, for example. In its origins, the State consists of 
the mixture of races and of tongues. It is the superation of 
all natural society. It is cross-bred and multilingual 
Thus, the city springs from the reunion of diverse 
peoples. On the heterogeneous basis of biology it imposes 
the abstract homogeneous structure of jurisprudence, 1 
Of course, this juridical unity is not the aspiration which 
urges on the creative movement of the State, The impulse 
is more substantial than mere legality; it is the project 
of vital enterprises greater than those possible to tiny 
groups related by blood. In the genesis of every State we 
see or guess at the figure of a great “company-promo ter P 
If we study the historical situation immediately pre- 
ceding the birth of a State, tve shall always discover the 
following lines of development. Various small groups 
exist, whose social structure is designed so that each may 
live within itself. The social form of each serves only for 
an “intemaP existence in common. This indicates that 
in the past they did actually live in isolation, each by itself 
and for itself, without other than occasional contacts wnth 

1 A juridical homogeneousness which does not necessarily imply 


its neighbours. But to this effective isolation there has 
succeeded an w external* ' common life, above all in the 
economic sphere. The individual in each group no longer 
lives only in his own circle, part of his life is linked up 
with individuals of other groups, with whom he is in 
commercial or intellectual relations* Hence arises a dis- 
equilibrium between the two common existences, the “in- 
ternal” and the “external.” Established social forms— laws* 
customs, religion — favour the internal and make difficult 
the external which is a newer, ampler existence, In this 
situation, the State-principle is the movement which tends 
to annihilate the social forms of internal existence, and to 
substitute for them a social form adequate to the new life, 
lived externa Lly. Apply this to actual conditions in Europe, 
and these abstract expressions will take on form and 

There is no possible creation of a State unless the minds 
of certain peoples arc capable of abandoning the tradi- 
tional structure of one form of common life, and in ad- 
dition, of thinking out another form not previously exist- 
ing. That is why it is a genuine creation. The State begins 
by being absolutely a w ork of imagination. Imagination 
is the liberating power possessed by man. A people is 
capable of becoming a State in the degree in which it is 
able to imagine. Hence it is, that with all peoples there has 
been a limit to their evolution in the direction of a State; 
precisely the limit set by Nature to their imaginations. 

The Greek and the Roman, capable of imagining the 
city w hich triumphs over the dispersiveness of the coun- 
tryside, stopped short at the city w r alls. There were men 
who attempted to carry Graeco-Roman minds further, to 
set them free from the city, but it was a vain enterprise. 
The imaginative limitations of the Roman, represented 
by Brutus, took in hand the assassination of Caesar, the 


greatest imagination of antiquity. It is of importance to 
us Europeans of to-day to recall this story, for ours has 
reached the same chapter* 


Of clear heads — what one can call really clear heads — 
there were probably in the ancient world not more than 
two; Themistocles and Caesar, two politicians. There 
were, no doubt, other men who had clear ideas on many 
matters — philosophers, mathematicians, naturalists* But 
their clarity was of a scientific order; that is to say, con™ 
eerned with abstract things. All the matters about which 
science speaks, whatever the science be, are abstract, and 
abstract things are always clear. So that the clarity of 
science is nor so much in the heads of scientists as in the 
matters of which they speak. What is really confused, 
intricate, is the concrete vital reality, always a unique 
thing. The man who is capable of steering a clear course 
through it, who can perceive under the chaos presented 
by every vital situation the hidden anatomy of the move- 
ment, the man, in a word, who does not lose himself in 
life, that is the man with the really cleat head. Take stock 
of those around you and you will see them wandering 
about lost through life, like sleep-walkers in the midst of 
their good or evil fortune, without the slightest suspicion 
of what is happening to them. You will hear them talk In 
precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, 
which would seem to point to them having ideas on the 
matter* But start to analyse those ideas and you will find 
that they hardly reflect in any w T ay the reality to which 
they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will dis- 
cover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the Ideas 
to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions 
the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of 
reality, of his own very life, For life is at the start a chaos 


in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he 
is frightened at finding himself face to face with this ter- 
rible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of 
fantasy, where everything is dear. It does not w orry him 
that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trendies for 
the defence of Ids existence, as scarecrows to frighten 
aw T ay reality. 

The man with the clear head is the man who frees him- 
self from those fantastic "ideas” and looks life in the face, 
realises that everything in it is problematic, and feels him- 
self lost. As this is the simple truth — that to live is to feel 
oneself lost — he w r ho accepts it has already begun to find 
himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the 
shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which 
to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sin- 
cere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause 
him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the 
only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipw j recked. All the 
rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who docs not really 
feel himself lost, is lost without remission; that is to say, 
he never finds himself, never comes up against his own 
reality. This is true in every order, even in science, in 
spite of science beiiifr of its nature an escape from life. 
(The majority of men of science have given themselves 
to it through fear of facing life. They arc nor clear heads; 
hence their notorious ineptitude in the presence of any 
concrete situation.) Our scientific ideas are of value to the 
degree in w hich w T e have felt ourselves lost before a ques- 
tion; have seen its problematic nature, and have realised 
that we cannot find support in received notions, in pre- 
scriptions, proverbs, mere words. The man who discovers 
a new scientific truth has previously had to smash to atoms 
almost everything he had learnt, and arrives at the new 
truth with hands bloodstained from the slaughter of a 
thousand platitudes. 


Politics is much more of a reality than science, because 
it is made up of unique situations in which a man sud- 
denly finds himself submerged w r hether he will or no. 
Hence it is a test which allows us better to distinguish 
w ho are the clear heads and who are the routineers, Caesar 
is the highest example know n of the faculty of getting to 
the roots of reality in a time of fearful confusion, in one 
of the most chaotic periods through which humanity has 
passed. And as if Fate had wished to stress still more the 
example, she set up, by the side of Caesar's, a magnificent 
‘intellectual” head, that of Cicero, a man engaged his 
whole life long in making things confused. An excess of 
good fortune had thrown out of gear the political ma- 
chinery of Rome, The city by the Tiber, mistress of Italy, 
Spain, Northern Africa, the classic and Hellenistic East, 
was on the point of falling to pieces. Its public institutions 
were municipal in character, inseparable from the city, 
like the hamadryads attached under pain of dissolution to 
the trees they have in tutelage. 

The health of democracies, of whatever type and range, 
depends on a wxetched technical detail — electoral pro- 
cedure, All the rest is secondary. If the regime of the elec- 
tions is successful, if it is in accordance with reality, all goes 
well; if not, though the rest progresses beautifully, all 
goes wrong. Rome at the beginning of the 1st Century 
r.c. is all-powerful, wealthy, with no enemy in front of 
her. And yet she is at the point of death because she per- 
sists in maintaining a stupid electoral system. An electoral 
system is stupid w j hen it is false. Voting had to take place 
in the city. Citizens in the country could not take part in 
the elections. Still less those who lived scattered over the 
whole Roman world. As genuine elections were impos- 
sible, it was necessary to falsify them, and the candidates 
organised gangs of bravoes from army veterans or circus 
athletes, whose business was to intimidate the voters. 


Without the support of a genuine suffrage democratic 
institutions are in the air* Words are things of air* and 
* 4 the Republic is nothing more than a word.” The expres- 
sion is Caesar’s* No magistracy possessed authority. The 
generals of the Left and of the Right — the Mariuses and 
the Sullas — harassed one another in empty dictatorships 
that led to nothing. 

Caesar has never expounded his policy, but he busied 
himself in carrying it out. That policy was Caesar him- 
self, and not the handbook of Caesarism which appears 
afterwards* There is nothing else for it; if we want to 
understand that policy, we must simply take Caesar's 
acts and give them his name. The secret lies in his main 
exploit: the conquest of the Gauls, To undertake this he 
had to declare himself in rebellion against the constituted 
Power. Why? Power was in the hands of the republicans; 
that is to say the conservatives, those faithful to the City- 
State. Their politics may be summed up in two clauses. 
First: the disturbances in the public life of Rome arise 
from its excessive expansion* The City cannot govern so 
many nations* Every new conquest is a crime of lese- 
republique. Secondly: to prevent the dissolution of the 
institutions of the State a Frinceps is needed. For us the 
word “prince" has an almost opposite sense to what 
“princeps” has for a Roman, By it he understood a 
citizen precisely like the rest, but invested with high 
powers, in order to regulate the functioning of republican 
institutions, Cicero in his books, De Re Publicity and Sallust 
in his memorials to Caesar, sum up the thoughts of the 
politicians by asking for a pr biceps civitam, a rector rerum 
pubUcammy a moderator . 

Caesar's solution is totally opposed to the Conservative 
one* He realises that to remedy the results of previous 
Roman conquests there was no other way titan to con- 
tinue them, accepting to the full this stern destiny. Above 


all it was necessary to conquer the new peoples of the 
West T more dangerous in a not-distant future than the 
effete peoples of the East, Caesar will uphold the necessity 
of thoroughly romamsing the barbarous nations of the 

It has been said (by Spengler) that the Graeco-Romans 
were incapable of the notion of time, of looking upon 
their existence as stretching out into time. They existed 
for the actual moment. 1 am Inclined to think the diag- 
nosis is inaccurate* or at least that it confuses two things* 
The Graeco-Roman does suffer an extraordinary blind- 
ness as to the future. He does not see it, just as the colour- 
blind do not see red. But, on the other hand, he lives 
rooted in the past. Before doing anything now, he gives 
a step backwards, like Lagan i jo, when preparing to kill. 1 
He searches out in the past a model for the present situa- 
tion, and accoutred with this he plunges into the waves 
of actuality, protected and disguised by the diving-dress 
of the past, Hence all his living is, so to speak, a revival 
Such is the man of archaic mould, and such the ancients 
always were. But this does not imply being insensible 
to time. It simply means an incomplete “chronism”- 
atrophy of the future, hypertrophy of the past. We Eu- 
ropeans have always gravitated towards the future* and 
feel that this is the time- dimension of most substance, the 
one which for us begins with "after” and not "before.” 
It is natural* then* that when we look at Graeco-Roman 
life, it seems to us “achronic.” 

This mania for catching hold of everything in the 
present with the forceps of a past model has been handed 
on from the man of antiquity to the modem “phtlologue*” 
I he philologue is also blind to the future* He also looks 
backward, searches for a precedent for every actuality, 

reference is la a well-known bull-fighter, designated, as 
usual, by his nickname, The Lizard. — Tn. 


which he calls in his pretty idyllic language, a 11 'source.” 
I say this because even the earliest biographers of Caesar 
shut themselves out from an understanding of this gigan- 
tic figure by supposing that he was attempting to imitate 
Alexander. The equation was for them inevitable: if Alex- 
ander could not sleep through thinking of the laurels 
of Mildades, Caesar had necessarily to suffer from in- 
somnia on account of those of Alexander, And so in suc- 
cession. Always the step backwards, to-day’s foot in yes- 
terday's footprint* The modem philologue is an echo of 
the classical biographer* 

To imagine that Caesar aspired to do something in 
the w T ay Alexander did it — and this is what almost all 
historians have believed — is definitely to give up trying 
to understand him. Caesar is very nearly the opposite 
of Alexander. The idea of a universal kingdom is the one 
thing that brings them together. But this idea is not 
Alexander’s, it comes from Persia. The image of Alexan- 
der would have impelled Caesar towards the East, with 
its past full of prestige. His decided preference for the 
West reveals rather the determination to contradict the 
Macedonian* But besides, it is not merely a universal king- 
dom that Caesar has in view. His purpose is a deeper 
one* He wants a Roman empire which does not live on 
Rome, but on the periphery, on the provinces, and this 
implies the complete supersession of the City-State. It 
implies a State in which the most diverse peoples col- 
laborate, in regard to which all feel solidarity. Not a 
centre which orders, and a periphery which obeys, but 
an immense social body, in which each element is at the 
same time an active and a passive subject of the State. 
Such is the modern State, and such was the fabulous 
anticipation of Caesar's futurist genius. But this presup- 
posed a power extra-Roman, anti -aristocratic, far above 
the Republican oligarchy, above its princeps , who was 


merely a primus inter pares . That executive power, repre- 
sentative of universal democracy, could only be the Mon- 
archy, with its seat outside Rome. Republic! Monarchy! 
Two words which in history are constantly changing 
their authentic sense, and which for that reason it is at 
every moment necessary to reduce to fragments in order 
to ascertain their actual essence. 

Caesar’s confidential followers, his most immediate in- 
struments, were not the archaic-minded great ones of the 
City, they were new men, provincials, energetic and ef- 
ficient individuals. His real minister was Cornelius Bal- 
bus, a man of business from Cadiz, an Atlantic man. 
But this anticipation of the new State xvas too advanced; 
the slow- working minds of Larium could not take such 
a great leap. The image of the City, with its tangible 
materialism, prevented the Romans from "seeing” that 
new organisation of the body politic. How could a State 
be formed by men who did not live m a City? What 
new kind of unity was that, so subtle, so mystic as it 
were? Once again, I repeat: the reality which we call 
the State is not the spontaneous coming together of men 
united by ties of blood. The State begins when groups 
naturally divided find themselves obliged to live in com- 
mon. This obligation is not of brute force, but implies an 
impelling purpose, a common task which is set before the 
dispersed groups. Before all, the State is a plan of ac- 
tion and a programme of collaboration. The men are 
called upon so that together they may do something. The 
State is neither consanguinity, nor linguistic unity, nor 
territorial unity, nor proximity of habitation. It is noth- 
ing material, inert, fixed, limited. It is pure dynamism — ~ 
the will to do something in common— and thanks to this 
the idea of the State is bounded by no physical limits. 

There was much ingenuity in the well-known political 
emblem of Saavedra Fajardo: an arrow, and beneath it, 


it either rises or falls/’ That is the State. Not a thing, 
but a movement. The State is at every moment some- 
thing which comes from and goes to. Like every move- 
merit, it has its terminus a quo and its terminus ad quem. 
If at anv point of time the life of a State which is really 
such be dissected there will be found a link of common 
life which seems to be based on some material attribute 
or other — blood, language, “natural frontiers.” A static 
interpretation will induce us to say: That is the State. 
But we soon observe that this human group is doing 
something in common— conquering other peoples, found- 
ing colonies, federating with other States; that is, at 
every hour it is going beyond what seemed to be the 
material principle of its unity. This is the terminus ad 
quem , the true State, whose unity consists precisely in 
superseding any given unity. When there is a stoppage 
of that impulse towards something further on, the State 
automatically succumbs, and the unity which previously 
existed, and seemed to be its physical foundation— race, 
language, natural frontier— becomes useless; the State 
breaks up, is dispersed, atomised. 

It is only tills double aspect of each moment in the 
State — the unity already existing and the unity in project 
— which enables us to understand the essence of the 
national State. We know that there has been as yet no 
successful definition of a nation, taking the word in 
its modern acceptation. The City-State was a clear no- 
tion, plain to the eyes. But the new type of public unity 
sprung up amongst Germans and Gauls, the political in- 
spiration of the West, is a much vaguer, Meeting thing. 
The philologue, the historian of to-day, of his nature an 
archaiser, feels, in presence of this formidable fact, almost 
as puzzled as Caesar or Tacitus when they tried to in- 
dicate in Roman terminology the nature of those incipient 
States, transalpine, further Rhine, or Spanish. They called 


them civitaSy gen j, natio y though realising that none of 
these names fits the thing, 1 They are not civitas, for the 
simple reason that they are not cities* But it will not even 
do to leave the term vague and use it to refer to a limited 
territory; The new peoples change their soil with the 
greatest ease, or at least they extend or reduce the posi- 
tion they occupy. Neither are they ethnic unities — gentes, 
nation es. However far back we go, the new States ap- 
pear already formed by groups unconnected by birth* 
.1 hey are combinations of different blood-stocks* What, 
then, is a nation, if it is neither community of blood nor 
attachment to the territory, nor anything of this nature? 

As always happens* in this case a plain acceptance of 
facts gives us the key* What is it that is clearly seen when 
we study the evolution of any “modern nation*” France, 
Spain, Germany? Simply this; what at one period seemed 
to constitute nationality appears to be denied at a later 
date. First, the nation seems to be the tribe, and the no- 
nation the tribe beside it* Then the nation is made up 
of the two tribes, later it is a region, and later still a 
county, a duchy or a kingdom. Leon is a nation but 
Castile not; then it is Leon and Castile, but not Aragon. 
The presence of two principles is evident: one* variable 
and continually superseded- -tribe, region, duchy, king- 
dom, with its language or dialect; the other, permanent* 
which leaps freely over ail those boundaries and postu- 
lates as being in union precisely what the first considered 
as in radical opposition. 

The philologues— this is my name for the people who 
to-day claim the title of “historians” — play a most de- 
lightful bit of foolery w hen, starting from what in our 
fleeting epoch* the last two or three centuries* the Western 
nations have been* they go on to suppose that Vercinget- 

1 See Dupsch* Economic and Social Foundations of European 
Civilisation } 2nd ed., 1914, VoL II, pp. 3, 4. 


orix or the Cid Campeador was already struggling for 
a France to extend from Sainc-MaLo to Strasburg, or a 
Spain to reach from Finisterre to Gibraltar. These phi- 
lologies— like the ingenuous playwright — almost always 
show their heroes starting out for the fhirty Years 1 War, 
To explain to us how France and Spain w T ere formed, they 
suppose that France and Spain pre-existed as unities in 
the depths of the French and Spanish souL As if there 
were any French or any Spaniards before France and 
Spain came into being! As if the Frenchman and the 
Spaniard were not simply things that had to be hammered 
out in rwo thousand years of toil! 

The plain truth is that modern nations are merely the 
present manifestation of a variable principle, condemned 
to perpetual supersession. That principle is not now blood 
ot language, since the community of blood and language 
in France or in Spain has been the effect, not the cause, 
of the unification into a State; the principle at the present 
time is the “natural frontier,” It is all very well for a 
diplomatist in his skilled fencing to employ this concept 
of natural frontiers, as the ultima ratio of his argumenta- 
tion. But a historian cannot shelter himself behind it as if 
it were a permanent redoubt, It is not permanent, it is not 
even sufficiently specific. 

Let us not forget what is, strictly stated, the question* 
We are trying to find out w T hat is the national State— 
what to-day w r e call a nation— as distinct from other 
types of State, like the City-State, or to go to the other 
extreme, like the Empire founded by Augustus , 1 If we 

f, It is well known that the Empire of Augustus is the opposite of 
what his adoptive father Caesar aspired to create, Augustus works 
along the lines of Pompey, of Caesar’s enemies. The best book 
on the subject up to the present Is E. Meyer’s The Monarchy of 
Caesar and the Ptineipate of Fornpey (1913), Though It is the 
best, it seems to me greatly insufficient, which is not strange, for 
nowhere to-day do we find historians of wide range. Meyer’s 


want to state the problem still more clearly and con- 
cisely, let us put it this way; What real force is it which 
has produced this living in common of millions of men 
under a sovereignty of public authority which we know 
as France, England, Spain, Italy, or Germany? It was 
not a previous community of blood, for each of those 
collective bodies has been filled from most heterogeneous 
blood-streams. Neither was it a linguistic unity, for the 
peoples to-day brought together under one State spoke, 
or still speak, different languages. The relative homo- 
gen eousness of race and tongue w^hich they to-day enjoy 
— if it is a matter of enjoyment — is the result of the pre- 
vious political unification. Consequently, neither blood 
nor language gives birth to the national State, rather it is 
the national State which levels down the differences aris- 
ing from the red globule and the articulated sound. And 
so it has always happened* Rarely, if ever, has the State 
coincided with a previous identity of blood and lan- 
guage. Spain is not a national State to-day because Span- 
ish is spoken throughout the country, * 1 nor were Aragon 
and Catalonia national States because at a certain period, 
arbitrarily chosen, the territorial bounds of their sov- 
ereignty coincided with those of Aragonese or Catalan 
speech* We should be nearer the truth if, adapting our- 
selves to the casuistry which every reality offers scope 
for, we were to incline to this presumption: every iin- 

book is written in opposition to Mommsen, who was a formidable 
historian, and although he has some reason for saying that Momm- 
sen idealises Caesar and converts him into a superhuman figure, 

I think Mommsen saw the essence of Caesar’s policy better than 
Meyer himself. This is not surprising, for Mommsen, besides being 
a stupendous tc philologue,” had plenty' of the futurist in him. And 
insight into the past Is approximately proportionate to vision of 
the future. 

l It is not even true in actual fact that all Spaniards speak Spanish* 
or all English English, or all Germans High -German. 


guistie unity which embraces a territory of any extent 
is almost sure to be a precipitate of some previous political 
unification . 1 The State has always been the great drago- 

This has been clear for a long time past, which makes 
more strange the obstinate persistence in considering 
blood and language as the foundations of nationality. 
In such a notion I see as much ingratitude as inconsist- 
ency, For the Frenchman owes his actual France and the 
Spaniard his actual Spain to a principle X, the impulse 
of which w r as directed precisely to superseding the nar- 
row community based on blood and language. So that, 
in such a view, France and Spain w r ould consist to-day 
of the very opposite to what made them possible* 

A similar misconception arises when an attempt is made 
to base the idea of a nation on a territorial shape, find- 
ing the principle of unity which blood and language do 
not furnish, in the geographical mysticism of “natural 
frontiers,” We are faced w ith the same optical illusion. 
The hazard of actual circumstances show's us so-called 
nations installed in wide lands on the continent or adjacent 
islands. It is thought to make of those actual boundaries 
something permanent and spiritual They are, we are 
told, natural frontiers, and by their “naturalness” is im- 
plied some sort of magic predetermination of history by 
terrestrial form. But this myth immediately disappears 
when submitted to the same reasoning which invalidated 
community of blood and language as originators of the 
nation. Here again, if we go back a few centuries, we 
find France and Spain dissociated in lesser nations, with 
their inevitable l+ natural frontiers. " The mountain frontier 
may be less imposing than the Pyrenees or the Alps, the 

1 Account is not taken, of course* of such cases as Koinon and 
lingua franca, which are not national, but specifically international, 


barrier of water less considerable than the Rhine, the 
English Channel, or the Straits of Gibraltar, But this 
only proves that the “naturalness” of the frontiers is 
merely relative. It depends on the economic and warlike 
resources of the period. 

The historic reality of this famous “natural frontier” 
lies simply in its being an obstacle to the expansion of 
people A over people B. Because it is an obstacle — to 
existence in common or to warlike operations — for A it 
is a defence for B. The idea of “natural frontiers” pre- 
supposes, then, as something even more natural than the 
frontier* the possibility of expansion and unlimited fusion 
between peoples. It is only a material obstacle that checks 
this. The frontiers of yesterday and the day before do 
no appear to us to-day as the foundations of the French 
or Spanish nation, bur the reverse; obstacles which the 
national idea met with in its process of unification. And 
notwithstanding this, w r c are trying to give a definite, 
fundamental character to the frontiers of to- day, in spite 
of the fact that new T methods of transport and warfare 
have nullified their effectiveness as obstacles. 

What* then, has been the part played by frontiers in 
the formation of nationalities, since they have not served 
as a positive foundation? The answer is clear, and is of 
the highest importance in order to understand the au- 
thentic idea behind the national State as contrasted with 
the Gty-State. Frontiers have served to consolidate at 
every stage the political unification already attained. They 
have not been, therefore, the starting-point of the na- 
tion; on the contrary, at the start they w^ere an obstade 1 
and afterwards, when surmounted, they w T ere a material 
means for strengthening unity. Exactly the same part 
is played by race and language. It is not the natural com- 
munity of either of these which constituted the nation; 
rather has the national State always found itself, in its 


efforts towards unification, opposed by the plurality of 
races and of tongues, as by so many obstacles* Once these 
have been energetically overcome, a relative unification 
of races and tongues has been effected, which then served 
as a consolidation of unity. 

There is nothing for it, then, but to remove the tracli- 
tional misconception attached to the idea of the national 
State, and to accustom ourselves to consider as funda- 
mental obstacles to nationality precisely those three things 
in which it was thought to consist. (Of course, in destroy- 
ing this misconception, it is I who w^ill now appear to 
be suffering from one*) We must make up our minds to 
search for the secret of the national State in its specific 
inspiration as a State, in the policy peculiar to itself, and 
not in extraneous principles, biological or geographical 
in character. 

Why, after all, was it thought necessary to have re- 
course to race, language, and territory in order to under- 
stand the marvellous fact of modern nationalities? Purely 
and simply because in these we find a radical intimacy and 
solidarity between the individual and the public Power 
that is unknown to the ancient State* In Athens and in 
Rome, the State was only a few individuals: the rest — 
slaves, allies, provincials, colonials — were mere subjects. 
In England, France, Spain, no one has ever been a mere 
subject of the State, but has always been a participator 
in it, one with it* The form, above all the juridical form, 
of this union in and with the State has been very differ- 
ent at different periods. There have been great distinc- 
tions of rank and personal status, classes relatively privi- 
leged and others relatively unprivileged; but if we seek 
to interpret the effective reality of the political situation 
in each period and to re-live its spirit, it becomes evi- 
dent that each individual felt himself an active subject 
of the State, a participator and a collaborator. 

170 the revolt of the masses 

The State is always, whatever be its form — primitive, 
ancient, medieval, modern— an invitation issued by one 
group of men to other human groups to carry out some 
enterprise in common. That enterprise, be its intermediate 
processes what they may, consists in the long run in the 
organisation of a certain type of common life. State and 
plan of existence, programme of human activity or con- 
duct, these are inseparable terms, The different kinds of 
State arise from the different w-ays in which the promot- 
ing group enters into collaboration with the others * Thus, 
the ancient State never succeeds in fusing with the others * 
Rome rules and educates the Italians and the provincials, 
but it does not raise them to union with itself. Even in 
the city it did not bring about the political fusion of the 
citizens. Let it not be forgotten that during the Republic 
Rome was, strictly speaking, two Romes: the Senate and 
the people. State-unification never got beyond a mere 
setting up of communication between groups which re- 
mained strangers one to the other* Hence it was that the 
Empire, when threatened, could not count on the pa- 
triotism of the others y and had to defend itself exclu- 
sively by bureaucratic measures of administration and 

This incapacity of every Greek and Roman group to 
fuse with other groups arose from profound causes which 
this is not the place to examine, but which may definitely 
be summed up in one: the man of the ancient world in- 
terpreted the collaboration in which the State inevitably 
consists, in a simple, elemental, rough fashion, namely, 
as a duality of governors and governed* 1 It was for Rome 

'This is confirmed by what at first sight seems to contradict it; 
the granting of citizens Eli p to all the inhabitants of the Empire, 
But it turns out that this concession was made precisely when it 
was losing the character of political status and changing into mere 
burden and service to the State, or into mere tide in civil law. 
Nothing else could be expected from i State in wliich slavery was 


to command and not to obey; for the rest, to obey and 
not to command. In this way the State is materialised 
within the pomoerimn } the urban body physically limited 
by walls. But the new peoples bring in a less material in- 
terpretation of the State, Since it is a plan of a common 
enterprise, its reality is purely dynamic; something to 
be done* the community in action. On this view every- 
one forms a part of the State, is a political subject who 
gives his support to the enterprise; race, blood, geographi- 
cal position, social class— all these take a secondary place, 
It is not the community of the past which is traditional, 
immemorial — in a word, fatal and unchangeable — which 
confers a title to this political fellowship, but the com- 
munity of the future with its definite plan of action. Not 
what we were yesterday, but what we are going to be 
to-morrow, joins as together in the State. Hence the ease 
with which political unity in the West leaps over all the 
limits which shut in the ancient State. For the European, 
as contrasted with the homo antiquzts, behaves like a 
man facing the future, living consciously in it, and from 
its view-point deciding on his present conduct. 

Such a political tendency will advance inevitably 
towards still ampler unifications, there being nothing in 
principle to impede it. The capacity for fusion is un- 
limited. Not only the fusion of one people with another, 
but what is still more characteristic of the national State: 
the fusion of all social classes within each political body. 
In proportion as the nation extends, territorially and 
ethnically, the internal collaboration becomes more uni- 
fied. The national State is in its very roots democratic, 
in a sense much more decisive than all the differences in 
forms of government. 

It is curious to observe that when defining the nation 

accepted as & principle. For our "nations," on the other hand, 
slavery was merely a residual fact. 


by basing it on community in the past, people always end 
by accepting as the best the formula of Renan, simply 
because in it there is added to blood, language and com- 
mon traditions, a new attribute when w^e are told that it 
is a “daily plebiscite.” But is the meaning of this expres- 
sion clearly understood? Can we not now give it a conno- 
tation of opposite sign to that suggested by Renan, and 
yet a much truer one? 

“To have common glories in the past, a common will 
in the present; to have done great things together; to 
wish to do greater; these are the essential conditions 
which make up a people, . , « In the past, an inheritance 
of glories and regrets; in the future, one and the same 
programme to carry out, . . . The existence of a nation 
is a daily plebiscite*” Such is the well-known definition 
of Renan. How are we to explain its extraordinary suc- 
cess? No doubt, by reason of the graceful turn of the 
final phrase. That idea that the nation consists of a “daily 
plebiscite” operates on us w r ith liberating effect* Blood, 
language, and common past are static principles, fatal, 
rigid, inert; they are prisons. If the nation consisted in 
these and nothing more, it would be something lying be- 
hind us, something with vrhich we should have no con- 
cern* The nation would be something that one is, not 
something that one does. There would even be no sense 
in defending it when attacked. 

Whether we like it or not, human life is a constant 
preoccupation with the future. In this actual moment 
we are concerned with the one that follows. Hence liv- 
ing is always, ceaselessly, restlessly, a doing. Why is it 
not realised that all doing implies bringing something fu- 
ture into effect? Including the case when we give our- 
selves up to remembering. We recall a memory at this 


moment in order to effect something in the moment 
following, be it only the pleasure of re-living the past. 
This modest secret pleasure presented itself to us a mo- 
ment ago as a desirable future thing, therefore we ‘"make 
remembrance of things past.” Let it be clear, then, that 
nothing has a sense for man except in as far as it is di- 
rected towards the future * 1 

If the nation consisted only in past and present, no 
one would be concerned with defending it against an 
attack. Those who maintain the contrary are either hypo- 
crites or lunatics* But what happens is that the national 
past projects its attractions — real or imaginary — into the 
future. A future in which our nation continues to exist 
seems desirable. That is why we mobilise in its defence, 
not on account of blood or language or common past* In 
defending the nation we are defending our to-morrows, 
not our yesterdays* 

'On this view, the human being has inevitably a futuristic con- 
stitution ; that is to say, he lives primarily in the future and for 
the future. Nevertheless, I have contrasted ancient man with Euro- 
pean man, by saying that the former is relatively closed against the 
future, the latter relatively open to it. There is, then, an apparent 
contradiction between the two theses. This appears only when we 
forget that man is a being of two aspects; on the one hand, he is 
what he really is; on the other, he has ideas of liimself which coin- 
cide more or less with his authentic reality* Evidently, our ideas, 
preferences, desires cannot annul our true being, but they can com- 
plicate and modify it* The ancient and the modern are both con- 
cerned about the Future, hut the former submits the future to a past 
regime, whereas we grant more autonomy to the future, to the new 
as such. This antagonism, not in being, but in preferring, justifies 
us qualifying the modem as a futurist and the ancient as an ar- 
ehaiser. It is a revealing fact that hardly does; the European awake 
and take possession of himself when he begins to call his existence 
“the modern period. 1 ' As is known, “modem" means the new, that 
which denies the ancient usage. Already at the end of the XIVth 
Century stress was beginning to be laid on modernity t precisely 
in those questions which most keenly interested the period, and 
one hears, for example, of devotio modema, a kind of vanguard of 
“mystical theology. 

174 THE Revolt of the masses 

This is what re- echoes through the phrase of Renan; 
the nation as a splendid programme for the morrow. 
Hie plebiscite decides on a future* The fact that in this 
case the future consists in a continuance of the past does 
not modify the question in the least; it simply indicates 
that Renan’s definition also is archaic in nature. Con- 
sequently, the national State must represent a principle 
nearer to the pure idea of a State than the ancient polis 
or the “tribe” of the Arabs, limited hy blood* In actual 
fact, the national idea preserves no little element of at- 
tachment to the past, to soil, to race; but for that reason 
it is surprising to observe how there always triumphs in 
it the spiritual principle of a unification of mankind, 
based on an alluring programme of existence. More than 
that, I would say that that ballast of the past, that rela- 
tive limitation within material principles, have never been 
and are not now completely spontaneous in the Western 
soul; they spring from the erudite interpretation given 
by Romanticism to the idea of the nation. If that XlXth- 
Ccnmry concept of nationality had existed in the Middle 
Ages, England, France, Spain, Germany would never 
have been born. 1 For that interpretation confuses what 
urges on and constitutes a nation with what merely con- 
solidates and preserves it. Let it be said once and for all 
— it is not patriotism which has made the nations, A be- 
lief in the contrary is a proof of that ingenuousness which 
I have alluded to, and which Renan himself admits into 
his famous definition. If in order that a nation may exist 
it is necessary for a group of men to be able to look back 
upon a common past, then I ask myself what are we to 
call that same group of men when they were actually 
living in a present which from the view-point of to-day 
is a past. Evidently it was necessary for that common exist- 

1 The principle of nationalities is, chronologically, one of the first 
symptoms of Romanticism — at the end of the XVIlIth Century* 


ence to die away, in order that they might be able to say : 
*'We are a nation*’' Do we not discover here the vice of 
all the tribe of philologues, of record-searchers, the pro- 
fessional optical defect which prevents them from recog- 
nising reality unless it is past? The philologue is one who, 
to be a philologue, requires the existence of the past. Not 
so the nation* On the contrary, before it could have a 
common past, it had to create a common existence, and 
before creating it, it had to dream it, to desire it, to plan 
it. And for a nation to exist, it is enough that it have a 
purpose for the future, even if that purpose remain un- 
fulfilled, end in frustration, as has happened more than 
once. In such a case we should speak of a nation untimely 
cut off; Burgundy, for example. 

With the peoples of Central and South America, Spain 
has a past in common, common language, common race; 
and yet it does not form with them one nation* Why 
not? There is one thing lacking which, we know, is the 
essential: a common future. Spain has not known how to 
invent a collective programme for the future of sufficient 
interest to attract those biologically related groups. The 
futurist plebiscite w r as adverse to Spain, and therefore 
archives, memories, ancestors, “mother country ,' 5 were of 
no avail. Where the former exists, these last serve as 
forces of consolidation, but nothing more . 1 

I see, then, in the national State a historical structure, 
plebiscitary in character. All that it appears to be apart 
from that has a transitory, changing value, represents the 
content, or the form, or the consolidation which at each 
moment the plebiscite requires, Renan discovered the 
magic word, filled with light, which allows us to exam- 

* We are at present about to assist, as in a laboratory* at a gigantic 
definitive experiment: we are going to see if England succeeds in 
maintaining m a sovereign unity of common life the different por- 
tions of her Empire, by furnishing them with an attractive pro- 
gramme of existence. 


ine, as by cathode rays* the innermost vitals of a nation, 
composed of these two ingredients: first, a plan of com- 
mon life with an enterprise in common; secondly, the ad- 
hesion of men to that attractive enterprise* This general 
adhesion gives rise to that internal solidity which distin- 
guishes the national State from the States of antiquity, 
in which union is brought about and kept up by external 
pressure of the State on disparate groups, whereas here 
the vigour of the State proceeds from spontaneous, deep 
cohesion between the “subjects/* In reality, the subjects 
are now the State, and cannot feel it — this is the new, the 
marvellous thing, in nationality — as something extrane- 
ous to themselves. And yet Renan very nearly annuls the 
success of his definition by giving to the plebiscite a retro- 
spective element referred to a nation already formed, 
whose perpetuation it decides upon. I should prefer to 
change the sign and make it valid for the nation in statu 
nascendi. This is the decisive point of view. For in truth 
a nation is never formed, In this it differs from other 
types of State* The nation is always either in the making, 
or in the unmaking* Tenitem non datur , It is either win- 
ning adherents, or losing them, according as the State 
does or does not represent at a given time, a vital enter- 

Hence it would be most instructive to recall the series 
of unifying enterprises which have successively won en- 
thusiasm from the human groups of the West, It would 
then be seen that Europeans have lived on these, not only 
in their public life, but in their most intimate concerns, 
that they have kept in training, or become flabby, ac- 
cording as there was or was not an enterprise in sight. 

Such a study would clearly demonstrate another point. 
The State-enterprises of the ancients, by the very fact 
that they did not imply the close adherence of the human 
groups among whom they were launched; by the very 


fact that the State properly so-called was always cir- 
cumscribed by its necessary limitation— tribe or city- 
such enterprises were practically themselves limitless. A 
people — Persia, Macedonia, Rome — might reduce to a 
unit of sovereignty any and every portion of the planet. 
As the unity was not a genuine one, internal and defin- 
itive, it remained subject to no conditions other than 
the military and administrative efficiency of the con- 
queror, But in the West unification into nations has had 
to follow an inexorable series of stages. We ought to be 
more surprised than we are at the fact that in Europe 
there has not been possible any Empire of the extent 
reached by those of the Persians, of Alexander and of 

The creative process of nations in Europe has always 
followed this rhythm: 

First movement .— The peculiar Western instinct which 
causes the State to be felt as the fusion of various peo- 
ples in a unity of political and moral existence, starts by 
acting on the groups most proximate geographically, 
ethnically, and linguistically. Not that this proximity is 
the basis of the nation, but because diversity amongst 
neighbours is easier to overcome. 

Sec and movement . — A period of consolidation in which 
other peoples outside the new State are regarded as 
strangers and more or less enemies. This is the period 
when the nationalising process adopts an air of exclu- 
siveness, of shutting itself up inside the State; m a word, 
what to-day we call nationalism* But the fact is that whilst 
the others are felt politically to be strangers and oppo- 
nents, there is economic, intellectual* and moral com- 
munion with them. Nationalist wars serve to level out the 
differences of technical and mental processes. Habitual 
enemies gradually become historically homogeneous. Lit- 
tle by little there appears on the horizon the conscious- 


ness that those enemy peoples belong to the same human 
circle as our own State. Nevertheless, they are still looked 
on as foreigners and hostile. 

Third movement*— The State is in the enjoyment of 
full consolidation. Then the new enterprise offers it- 
self to unite those peoples who yesterday were enemies. 
The conviction grows that they are akin to us in morals 
and interests, and that together we form a national group 
over against other more distant, stranger groups. Here 
we have the new national idea arrived at maturity. 

An example will make clear what I am trying to say. 
It is the custom to assert that in the time of the Cld 1 
Spain (Spitfzi’tf) was already a national idea, and to give 
more weight to the theory it is added that centuries 
previously St. Isidore was already speaking of “Mother 
Spain/ 1 To my mind, this is a crass error of historical 
perspective. In the time of the Cid the LeotvCastile State 
was in process of formation, and this unity between the 
two was the national idea of the time, the politically 
efficacious idea. Spania t on the other hand, was a mainly 
erudite notion; in any case, one of many fruitful notions 
sown in the West by the Roman Empire. The “Span- 
iards'* had been accustomed to be linked together by 
Rome in an administrative unity, as a diocern of the Late 
Empire. But this geographical-administrative notion was 
a matter of mere acceptation from without, not an in- 
spiration from within, and by no manner of means an 
aspiration towards the future. 

However much reality one may wish to allow to this 
idea in the XI th Century, it will be recognised that it does 
not even reach the vigour and precision which the idea 
of Hellas had for the Greeks of the IVth. And yet, 
Hellas was never a true national idea. The appropriate 
historical comparison would be rather this: Hellas was 
5 Rodrigo de Bivar, ca* 1040-1099+ 


for the Greeks of the IVth Century, and Spmia for the 
“Spaniards"' of the Xlth and even of the XI Vth, what Eu- 
rope was for XIXth-Ccntury “Europeans/" 

This shows us how the attempts to form national unity 
advance towards their purpose like sounds in a melody* 
The mere tendency of yesterday will have to wait until 
to-morrow before taking shape in the final outpouring 
of national inspirations. But on the other hand it is almost 
certain that its time will come. There is now coming for 
Europeans the time when Europe can convert itself into 
a national idea. And it is much less Utopian to believe 
this to-day than it would have been to prophesy in the 
Xlth Century the unity of Spain* The more faithful the 
national State of the West remains to its genuine inspira- 
tion, the more surely will it perfect itself in a gigantic 
continental State. 


Hardly have the nations of the West rounded off their 
actual form when there begins to arise, around them, 
as a sort of background — Europe. This is the unifying 
landscape In which they are to move from the Renais- 
sance onwards, and this European background is made 
up of the nations themselves which, though unaware of 
it, arc already beginning to withdraw from their bellicose 
plurality. France, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, fight 
among themselves, form opposing leagues, and break 
them only to re-form them afresh* But all this, war as 
well as peace, is a living together as equals, a thing which 
neither in peace nor war Rome could ever do with Celti- 
berian, Gaul, Briton, or German. History has brought out 
into the foreground the conflicts and, in general, the poli“ 
tics, always the last soil on which the seed of unity springs 
up; but whilst the fighting was going on in one field, on 
a hundred others there was trading with the enemy, an 


exchange of ideas and forms of art and articles of faith. 
One might say that the dash of fighting was only a cur- 
tain behind which peace was busily at work, interweaving 
the lives of the hostile nations. In each new T generation 
the souls of men grew' more and more alike. To speak 
with more exactitude and caution, we might put it this 
way; the souls of French and English and Spanish are, and 
will be, as different as you like, but they possess the same 
psychological architecture; and, above all, they are gradu- 
ally becoming similar in content. Religion, science, law, 
art, social and sentimental values are being shared alike. 
Now these are the spiritual things hy which man lives. 
The homogeneity, then, becomes greater than if the souls 
themselves ’were all cast in identical mould. If we were 
to take an inventory of our mental stock to-day—opin- . 
ions, standards, desires, assumptions— we should discover 
that the greater part of it does not come to the French- 
man from France, nor to the Spaniard from Spain, but 
from the common European stock. To-day, in fact, we 
are more influenced by what is European in us than by 
what is special to us as Frenchmen, Spaniards, and so on. 

If w T e were to make in imagination the experiment of 
limiting ourselves to living by w hat is “national” in us, 
and if in fancy we could deprive the average Frenchman 
of all that he uses, thinks, feels, by reason of the influence 
of other sections of the Continent, he would be terror- 
stricken at the result. He wmuld see that it was not pos- 
sible to live merely on his own; that four-fifths of his 
spiritual wealth is the common property of Europe. 

It is impossible to perceive what else worth while there 
is to be done by those of us who live on this portion of 
the planet but to fulfil the promise implied by the W'ord 
Europe during the last four centuries. The only thing op- 
posed to it is the prejudice of the old “nations,” the idea 
of the nation as based on the past. We are shortly to 


see if Europeans are children of Lot’s wife who persist 
in making history with their heads turned backwards. 
Our reference to Rome, and in general to the man of 
the ancient w orld, has served us as a warning; it is very 
difficult for a certain type of man to abandon the idea 
of the State which has once entered his head. Happily, the 
idea of the national State which the European, consciously 
or not, brought into the world, is not the pedantic idea 
of the philologues which has been preached to him, 

I can now sum up the thesis of this essay, The world 
to-dav is suffering from a grave demoralisation which, 
amongst other symptoms, manifests itself by an extraor- 
dinary rebellion of the masses, and has its origin in the 
demoralisation of Europe, The causes of this latter are 
multiple. One of the main is the displacement of the 
power formerly exercised by our Continent over the rest 
of the world and over itself* Europe is no longer certain 
that it rules, nor the rest of the world that it is being 
ruled. Historic sovereignty finds itself in a state of disper- 
sion, There is no longer a “plenitude of the times/' for this 
supposes a clear, prefixed, unambiguous future, as was 
that of the XlXth Century. Then men thought they knew 
what was going to happen to-morrow. But now once 
more the horizon opens out towards new unknown direc- 
tions, because it is not known who is going to rule, 
how authority is going to be organised over the world. 
WhOy that is to say, what people or group of peoples^ 
consequently, what ethnic type, what ideology, what sys- 
tems of preferences, standards, vital movements. 

No one knows towards what centre human things are 
going to gravitate in the near future, and hence the life 
of the world has become scandalously provisional. Every- 
thing that to-day is done in public and in private — even 
in one's inner conscience — is provisional, the only excep- 
tion being certain portions of certain sciences. He will 


be a wise man who puts no trust in all that is proclaimed, 
upheld, essayed, and lauded at the present day* All that 
will disappear as quickly as it came. All of it, from the 
mania for physical sports (the mania, not the sports them- 
selves) to political violence; from “new art” to sun-baths 
at idiotic fashionable watering-places. Nothing of all that 
has any roots; it is all pure invention, in the bad sense of 
the word, which makes it equivalent to fickle caprice. It 
is not a creation based on the solid substratum of life; it 
is not a genuine impulse or need. In a word, from the 
point of view of life it is false, We are in presence of the 
contradiction of a style of living which cultivates sin- 
cerity and is at the same time a fraud. There is truth 
only in an existence which feels its acts as irrevocably 
necessary., There exists to-day no politician who feels 
the inevitableness of his policy, and the more extreme 
his attitudes, the more frivolous, the less inspired by 
destiny they are* The only life w r ith its roots fixed in 
earth, the only autochthonous life, is that which is made 
up of inevitable acts. All the rest, all that it is in our power 
to take or to leave or to exchange for something else, is 
mere falsification of life. Life to-day is the fruit of an 
interregnum, of an empty space between two organisa- 
tions of historical rule— that which was, that which is 
to be, For this reason it is essentially provisional* Men do 
not knoiv what institutions to serve in truth; women do 
not know what type of men they in truth prefer. 

The European cannot live unless embarked upon some 
great unifying enterprise* When this is lacking, he be- 
comes degraded, grows slack, his soul b paralysed. We 
have a commencement of this before our eyes to-day* 
The groups which up to to-day have been known as na- 
tions arrived about a century ago at their highest point 
of expansion* Nothing more can be done with them ex- 
cept lead them to a higher evolution, They are now mere 


past accumulating all around Europe* weighing it down* 
imprisoning it. With more vital freedom than ever* we 
feel that we cannot breathe the air within our nations, 
because it is a confined air. What was before a nation 
open to all the winds of heaven, has turned into some- 
thing provincial, an enclosed space. 

Everyone sees the need of a new principle of life. But 
as always happens in similar crises — some people attempt 
to save the situation by an artificial intensification of 
the very principle which has led to decay. This is the 
meaning of the “nationalist” outburst of recent years. 
And, 1 repeat, things have always gone that way. The 
last flare, the longest; the last sigh, the deepest. On the 
very eve of their disappearance there is an intensification 
of frontiers — military and economic. 

But all these nationalisms are so many blind alleys. 
Try to project one into the future and see what happens. 
I here is no outlet that way. Nationalism is always an 
effort in a direction opposite to that of the principle which 
creates nations. The former is exclusive in tendency, the 
latter inclusive, in periods of consolidation, nationalism 
has a positive value* and is a lofty standard. But in Eu- 
rope everything is more than consolidated* and national- 
ism is nothing but a mania, a pretext to escape from the 
necessity of inventing something new, some great enter- 
prise, Its primitive methods of action and the type of 
men it exalts reveal abundantly that it is the opposite of 
a historical creation. 

Only the determination to construct a great nation 
from the group of peoples of the Continent would give 
new life to the pulses of Europe. She would start to 
believe in herself again, and automatically to make de- 
mands on, to discipline* herself. But the situation is much 
more difficult than is generally realised. The years are 
passing and there is the risk that the European will grow 


accustomed to the lower tone of the existence he is at 
present living, will get used neither to rule others nor to 
rule himself. In such a ease, all his virtues and higher ca- 
pacities would vanish into air. 

But, as has always happened in the process of nation- 
forming, the union of Europe is opposed by the conserva- 
tive classes, This may well mean destruction for them, 
for to the general danger of Europe becoming definitely 
demoralised and losing all its historic strength is added 
another, more concrete and more imminent. When Com- 
munism triumphed in Russia, there were many who 
thought that the whole of the West w ould be submerged 
by the Red torrent* I did not share that view; on the 
contrary I wrote at the time that Russian Communism 
was a substance not assimilable by the European, a type 
that has in its history thrown all its efforts and energies 
in the scale of individualism. Time has passed, and the 
fearful ones of a while since have recovered their tran- 
quillity. They have recovered their tranquillity precisely 
at the moment when they might with reason lose it. Be- 
cause now indeed is the time when victorious, overw helm- 
ing Communism may spread over Europe, 

This is how it appears to me. Now, just as before, the 
creed of Russian Communism does not interest or attract 
Europeans — offers them no tempting future. And not for 
the trivial reasons that the apostles of Communism — ob- 
stinate, unheeding, strangers to fact — are in the habit of 
alleging. The bourgeois of the West knows quite well, 
that even without Communism, the days are numbered 
of the man who lives exclusively on his income and hands 
it down to his children. It is not this that renders Europe 
immune to the Russian creed, still less is it fear. The arbi- 
trary bases on which Sore! founded his tactics of violence 
twenty years ago seem to us stupid enough to-day. The 
bourgeois is no coward, as Sorel thought, and at the ac- 


tual moment: is more inclined to violence than the work- 
ers. Everybody knows that if Bolshevism triumphed in 
Russia, it was because there were in Russia no bour- 
geois . 1 Fascism, which is a petit bourgeois movement, 
has shown itself more violent than all the labour move- 
ment combined. It is nothing of all this then that pre- 
vents the European from flinging himself into Com- 
munism, but a much simpler reason. It is that the Eu- 
ropean docs not see in the Communistic organisation an 
increase of human happiness. 

And still, I repeat, it seems to me quite possible that 
in the next few years Europe may grow enthusiastic for 
Bolshevism. Not for its own sake, rather in spite of what 
it is. Imagine that the “five year plan” pursued with 
herculean efforts by the Soviet Government fulfils ex- 
pectations and that the economic situation of Russia is 
not only restored, but much improved, Whatever the 
content of Bolshevism be, it represents a gigantic human 
enterprise. In it, men have resolutely embraced a purpose 
of reform, and live tensely under the discipline that such 
a faith iastils into them. If natural forces, so response! ess 
to the enthusiasms of man, do not bring failure to this 
attempt; if they merely give it free scope to act, its w on- 
derfui character of a mighty enterprise will light up the 
continental horizon as with a new and flaming constella- 
tion. If Europe, in the meantime, persists in the ignoble 
vegetative existence of these last years, its muscles flabby 
for want of exercise, without any plan of a new life, 
how will it be able to resist the contaminating influence 
of such an astounding enterpriser it is simply a misunder- 
standing of the European to expect that he can hear un- 
moved that call to new action when he has no standard 

1 This ought to be enough to convince us once for all that Marxian 
Socialism and Bolshevism are two historical phenomena which have 
hardly a single common denominator. 


of a cause as great to unfurl in opposition. For the sake 
of serving something that wiU give a meaning to his exist- 
ence, it is not impossible that the European may swallow 
his objections to Communism and feel himself carried 
away not by the substance of the faith, but by the fervour 
of conduct it inspires. 

To my mind the building-up of Europe into a great 
national State is the one enterprise that could counter- 
balance a victory of the “five year plan," Experts in po- 
litical economy assure us that such a victory has little 
probability in its favour. But it would be degradation 
indeed, if anti -Communism w r ere to hope for everything 
from the material difficulties encountered by its adver- 
sary, His failure would then be equivalent to universal 
defeat of actual man. Communism is an extravagant moral 
code, but nothing less than a moral code. Docs it not seem 
more worthy and more fruitful to oppose to that Slavonic 
code, a new European code, the inspiration towards a 
new programme of life? 


We Arrive at the Real 

This is the question: Europe has been left without a 
moral code. It is not that the mass-man has thrown over 
an antiquated one in exchange for a new one, but that 
at the centre of his scheme of life there is precisely the 
aspiration to live without conforming to any moral code. 
Do not believe a word you hear from the young when 
they talk about the “new morality / 1 I absolutely deny 
that there exists to-day in any corner of the Continent 
a group inspired by a new ethos which shows signs of 
being a moral code. When people talk of the “new moral- 
ity" they are merely committing a new immorality and 
looking for a %vay of introducing contraband goods . 1 
Hence it would be a piece of ingenuousness to accuse the 
man of to-day of Ms lack of moral code. The accusation 
would leave him cold* or rather, would flatter him, Im- 
moralism has become a commonplace, and anybody and 
everybody boasts of practising it. 

If we leave out of question, as has been done in this 
essay, all those groups which imply survivals from the 
past — Christians, Idealists, the old Liberals— there will 

T do not suppose there are more than two dozen men scattered 
about the world who Can recognise the springing tip of what one 
day may be a new moral code. For that very reason, such men axe 
the least representative of this actual time. 

f ®7 

I 88 THE revolt of the masses 

not be found amongst all the representatives of the actual 
period, a single group whose attitude to life is not limited 
to believing that it has all the rights and none of the 
obligations. It is indifferent whether it disguises itself as 
reactionary or revolutionary; actively or passively, after 
one or two twists, its state of mind will consist, decisively, 
in ignoring all obligations, and in feeling itself, without 
the slightest notion why, possessed of unlimited rights. 
Whatever be the substance which takes possession of such 
a soul, it will produce the same result, and will change 
into a pretext for not conforming to any concrete pur- 
pose, If it appears as reactionary or anti-liberal it will be 
in order to affirm that the salvation of the State gives a 
right to level down all other standards, and to manhandle 
one’s neighbour, above all if one’s neighbour is an out- 
standing personality* But the same happens if it decides 
to act the revolutionary; the apparent enthusiasm for the 
manual worker, for the afflicted and for social justice, 
serves as a mask to facilitate the refusal of all obligations, 
such as courtesy, truthfulness and, above all, respect or 
esteem for superior individuals. I know of quite a few 
who have entered the ranks of some labour organisation 
or other merely in order to win for themselves the right 
to despise intelligence and to avoid paying it any tribute* 
As regards other kinds of Dictatorship, we have seen only 
too well how they flatter the mass-man, hy trampling on 
everything that appeared to be above the common level* 
This fighting-shy of every obligation partly explains 
the phenomenon, half ridiculous, half disgraceful, of the 
setting-up in our days of the platform of “youth” as 
youth* Perhaps there is no more grotesque spectacle of- 
fered by our times. In comic fashion people call them- 
selves “young,” because they have heard that youth has 
more rights than obligations, since it can put off the ful- 
filment of these latter to the Greek Kalends of maturity. 


The youth, as such, has always been considered exempt 
from doing or having done actions of importance. He 
has always lived on credit. It was a sort of false right, 
half ironic* half affectionate* which the no-longer young 
conceded to their juniors. But the astounding thing at 
present is that these take it as an effective right precisely 
in order to claim for themselves ail those other rights 
which only belong to the man who has already done 

Though it may appear incredible, “youth” has become 
a chantage; we are in truth living in a time when this 
adopts two complementary attitudes, violence and carica- 
ture. One way or the other, the purpose is always the 
same; that the inferior, the man of the crowd, may feel 
himself exempt from all submission to superiors. 

It will not do* then, to dignify the actual crisis by pre- 
senting it as the conflict between two moralities, two 
civilisations* one in decay, the other at its daw T n, The 
mass-man is simply without moral! ty, which is always, 
in essence, a sentiment of submission to something, a 
consciousness of service and obligation. But perhaps it 
is a mistake to say “simply,” For it is not merely a ques- 
tion of this type of creature doing without morality. No, 
we must not make his task too easy. Morality cannot be 
eliminated without more ado. What, by a word lacking 
even in grammar, is called amorality is a thing that does 
not exist. If you are unwilling to submit to any norm, you 
have, nolens voleffi f to submit to the norm of denying all 
morality, and this is not amoral, but immoral. It is a nega- 
tive morality which preserves the empty form of the 
other. How has it been possible to believe in the amorality 
of life? Doubtless, because all modern culture and civilisa- 
tion tend to that conviction. Europe is now reaping the 
painful results of her spiritual conduct. She has adopted 
blindly a culture w hich is magnificent, but has no roots. 


In this essay an attempt has been made to sketch a 
certain type of European, mainly by analysing his be- 
haviour as regards the very civilisation into which he 
was born. This had to be done because that individual 
docs not represent a new civilisation struggling with a 
previous one, but a mere negation. Hence it did not serve 
our purpose to mix up the portrayal of his mind with 
the great question; What are the radical defects from 
which modern European culture suffers? For it is evident 
that in the long run the form of humanity dominant at 
the present day has its origin in these defects. 

This great question must remain outside these pages. 
Its treatment would require of us to unfold in detail the 
doctrine of human existence which, like a leitmotiv, is 
interwoven, insinuated, whispered in them. Perhaps, be- 
fore long, it may be cried aloud.